Using Oral History to Teach Social Studies: A Pedagogical Statement
By Kathryn Tracy Rizzi
Oral history interviews are written documents or audio or video recordings of interviews with people who lived during a certain time period, experienced historical events, and have the desire to share their story about how those factors shaped their lives and the greater world, thereby providing primary sources for the study of history and other disciplines.
Traditional methods of history focus on the experiences of leaders, such as presidents, generals and policymakers, and provide a hierarchical, top-down approach to viewing history, which can be very restrictive in terms of race, class, gender, religion and other points of view. Oral history enables the examination of the humanities through many divergent viewpoints. Oral history is a way of capturing a multitude of recollections from history's eyewitnesses, many of whom are average people, the infantryman, the civil rights activist, the immigrant, whose stories of battles, marches and tenement life reflect the essence of epic events of the past.
Through oral history, present generations can relive what transpired before they were born through the voices of past generations whose lives have become enshrined into history. By using oral history in the classroom, educators can transform the traditional study of history, using textbooks and relying on dates and names, into vivid, animated discourse that will inspire and spark the minds and imaginations of students.
In operation since 1994, the Rutgers Oral History Archives features approximately 704 oral history interviews on its website, thus making this resource available to historians, researchers, academics, educators, students and the public in general.
The Rutgers Oral History Archives website now features a resource area for educators, which offers lesson plans that incorporate the use of oral history into the teaching of social studies. ROHA also offers an index that describes the scope of some of ROHA's oral histories, providing a way for educators to browse through the collection and use oral history excerpts in the creation of their own lesson plans.
For more lesson plan ideas, we recommend that you visit the NJ Digital Highway website.
If you are interested in ROHA educational workshops, please review the workshop offerings here.
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