Case Studies in Oral History and Community Learning

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Colleges have long provided expert advice, sponsored professional research, and served as archival repositories for local and regional field research. Today, oral history is being used as a vehicle for teaching and learning in college classrooms; students learn about historical research as they talk with local people about their lives and about events in the area's history. Students learn critical thinking, research, and writing skills but they also learn about the communities in which they live and study. In the process, students gather tape recordings and other resources that are of potential value to the local communities as well as to other researchers. Working on oral history projects, students learn historical methods grounded in practice but they also learn about ethical issues in scholarship through research projects that come to completion in public programs. Through oral history, colleges, in turn, have the opportunity to give a valuable historical resource back to local communities. Student research has the potential to link the college campus to local groups and community members while engaging students in service learning initiatives that have proven integral to curriculum goals. In some programs, research that explores social problems and ethical issues fostered public dialogue and encouraged students to see themselves as agents of social change. The following case studies present programs that integrate undergraduate instruction with opportunities for community learning and service through oral history. Two of the projects, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Duke University represent efforts to connect archival oral history programs with undergraduate learning experiences in local communities; two projects, at the University of Pennsylvania and at Trinity College, emerged directly from community service initiatives; while the final two projects, at Dickinson College and Kenyon College, were grounded in the development of new, interdisciplinary courses.

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