Oral History in the Digital Age Course

Oral History in the Digital Age:
Methods, Technology, and Practices
Summer 2014



Malea Powell, PhD
289 Ernst Bessey Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824



Dean Rehberger
Michigan State University
288 Farm Lane, Room 409
East Lansing MI 48824-1120

Direct: 517.353.4969
Main: 517.355.9300
Fax: 517.355.8363


Twitter: deanreh
Twitter: Oral_History
Aim: deanreh

Course Description:

This course is an introduction to oral history methodology, theory, and professional practice.  It is designed for persons intending to use oral history interviews in the practice of historical or other qualitative research.  The course examines how oral history projects are constructed and administered, how interviews are conducted, and how oral history interviews are preserved in archives and libraries.  The course will also explore the technologies involved in the collection and preservation of interviews, the reliability of memory and the utilization of oral histories in various forms of publications including print, radio, television, internet, and museum exhibitions.  Students will gain practical experience in oral history interviewing and related aspects of oral history, such as recording, archiving, transcribing, editing, and publishing oral histories.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the session, students will:

  • Gain an overall understanding of oral history as a process and an information package;
  • Students will get practical experience in oral history interviewing and related aspects of oral history recording, transcribing, editing, publishing, and preservation;
  • Establish a fundamental knowledge in the technologies of recording, preservation, and publication of oral history interviews;
  • Gain a familiarity of the theoretical underpinnings of oral history;
  • Complete an oral history project.

 Course Format and Meetings:

As a class we will meet for two weeks in May to get projects started.  We will meet May 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.  During this time we will explore and discuss the basics of oral history methodology and practice.   We will also develop our oral history projects.  During the following 4 weeks we will be working on our own to complete our oral history projects.  During this time you can contact and meet with your instructors to discuss your projects at any time (you must schedule at least one meeting –virtual or real — with an instructor).  We will then reconvene June 25 and 26 to present and discuss our projects.

 Required Texts:

 All texts and media for the course can be found online at our web site (http://dh.matrix.msu.edu/ohda_course/)

 Suggested Reading: 

(While there are any number of excellent texts on oral history methods and practice, the following offer some of the best examples)

Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide Hardcover
by Donald A. Ritchie (2003)

Oral History Theory
by Lynn Abrams (2010)

History of Oral History: Foundations and Methodology
by Leslie Roy Ballard, Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers and Rebecca Sharpless (2013)

The Oral History Reader
by Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (2006)

The Walking People: A Native American Oral History
by Paula Underwood

Tribal Cultural Resource Management: The Full Circle to Stewardship
by Darby Stapp, Michael Burnett, Jeff Van Pelt, Robert Whitlam


 Course Project

You are required to conduct at least one recorded oral history interview. The interview may be on a topic of your choice.  The project will include several parts:

1)   Initial Project Process: Due First Day of Class (completed in class)
2)   Interviewee Information Form (completed in class)
3)   Interview questions (completed in class)
4)   Metadata (completed in class)
5)   Interview (media format video or audio)
6)   Interview Transcript
7)   Interview Reflection: compare and analyze your experience with the information regarding interviewing gleaned from the class readings and discussions.
8)   IRB Application  (completed in class)
9)   Project Presentation
10)   Final Project Process

 Course Policies:

Attendance & Participation:

We will primarily discuss texts, methods and research strategies as a class.  But we will also be doing a host of collaborative projects with your peers.  Therefore, you will need to follow the syllabus closely.  Since we have very few in person meetings, you should make every effort to attend class.  You should contact one of your instructors prior to missing a class (phone, email. instant messenger).  All of us will be charged with doing the reading assignments and coming to class prepared with thoughts, questions, and responses.

 Academic Integrity:

Student-teacher relationships are built on trust. You should assume that we’ve made good decisions about the content and structure of the course; we should assume that the assignments you hand in are yours (that you are the one who produced them); and so on. Acts that violate this trust undermine the educational process.

Grading will be based on your Oral History reflection, final project and presentation (as well as completing the other 7 parts of the project).  Thus you will not receive a grade until the final project is evaluated; please don’t hesitate to ask at any time about the quality of your work.


May 12, 2014


  • “Collecting in the Digital Age”: An Overview, Charles Hardy III and Doug Boyd
  • Designing an Oral History Project: Initial Questions to Ask Yourself, Doug Boyd
  • Project Planning and Management, Marsha MacDowell
  • Making Sense of Oral History, Linda Shopes
  • On the Differences between Folklore Fieldwork and Oral History, Tim Lloyd
  • “No One Wants the Maintenance Crew Named after Them,” or Preparing Material to Deposit in the Digital Age, Troy Reeves
  • Audio or Video for Recording Oral History: Questions, Decisions, Doug Boyd


In Class Materials

May 13, 2014

In class Resources

May 14, 2014

May 15
  • The American Indian Oral History Manual: Making Many Voices Heard  by Charles Trimble (pick up in class)

May 19, 2014

May 20, 2014

In-Class Materials


May 21, 2014

Sample Forms



May 22, 2014

General Links

Links for native oral histories


 Further readings



  • Mercier, Laurie and Madeline Buckendorf. Using Oral History in Community History Projects, 2nd ed.Carlisle, Pa.: Oral History Association, 2007.
  • Mackay, Nancy. Curating Oral Histories: From Interview to Archive. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Left Coast Press, 2007.
  • Neuenschwander, John H. Oral History and the Law, 3rd ed. Carlisle, PA: Oral History Association, 2002.
  • Ritchie, Donald A. Doing Oral History, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Sommer, Barbara W. and Mary Kay Quinlan. The Oral History Manual. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Alta MiraPress, 2002.
  • Whitman, Glenn. Dialogue with the Past: Engaging Students and Meeting Standards through Oral History. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004.
  • Yow, Valerie Raleigh. Recording Oral History: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists, 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2005.


  • Abrams, Lynn. Oral History Theory. Routledge: London, 2011.
  • Bornat, Joanna, ed. Reminiscence Reviewed: Perspectives, Evaluations, Achievements. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1994.
  • Charlton, Thomas L., Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless, eds. Handbook of Oral History. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2006.
  • Published in paperback in two volumes: History of Oral History: Foundations and Methodologies (2007); and Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications (2007)
  • Coles, Robert. Doing Documentary Work. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Field, Sean. Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Freund, Alexander and Alistair Thomson, eds.. Oral History and Photography. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  • Frisch, Michael. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Albany: SUNY Press. 1991.
  • Grele, Ronald. Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History, 2nd ed. New York: Praeger, 1991.
  • Gluck, Sherna and Daphne Patai. Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History. New York: Routledge, 1991.
  • Hamilton, Paula and Linda Shopes, eds. Oral History and Public Memories. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008.
  • Jeffrey, Jaclyn and Glenace Edwall, eds. Memory and History: Essays on Recalling and Interpreting Experience. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America (for Institute for Oral History), 1991.
  • Lanman, Barry A. and Laura Wendling, eds. Preparing the Next Generation of Oral Historians: An Anthology of Oral History Education. Lanham, Md. : AltaMira Press, 2006
  • Perks, Robert, and Alistair Thomson. The Oral History Reader, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Portelli, Alessandro. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany: SUNY Press, 1991.
  • ———-. The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Rttchie, Donald A., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Oral History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Schrag, Zachary M. Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences 1965 – 2009. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
  • Shopes, Linda. “Making Sense of Oral History,” History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/oral.htm/.
  • Thompson, Paul. The Voices of the Past: Oral History, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Oral History and Trauma

  • BenEzer, Gadi. “Trauma Signals and Life Stories.” Trauma and Life Stories: International Perspectives, edited by Kim Lacy Rogers, Selma Leyersdoff, and Graham Dawson. Vol.2, Routledge Press Studies in Memory and Narrative. New York: Routledge Press, 1999.
  • Brown, Lyn Mikel and Carol Gilligan. Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
  • Clark, Mary Marshall. “Holocaust Video Testimony, Oral History, and Narrative Medicine: The Struggle Against Indifference.” Literature and Medicine 24:2 (2005): 266-282.
  • Clark, Mary Marshall. (ed.) After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed (The New Press)
  • Coleman, Peter. “Reminiscence within the Study of Ageing: The Social Significance of Story.” Reminiscence Reviewed; Perspectives, Evaluations and Achievements, edited by Joanna Bornat. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press, 1994.
  • Cvetkovich, Ann. “Trauma Ongoing.” In Trauma at Home After 9/11, edited by Judith Greenberg. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003: 60-66.
  • Friedlander, Saul. Trauma, Transference and “Working through” in Writing the History of the “Shoah” History and Memory > Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring – Summer, 1992.
  • Greenspan, Henry. On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Recounting and Life History. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
  • Hegeman, Elizabeth and Agnes Wohl. “Management of Trauma-Related Affect, Defenses, and Dissociative States.” Group Psychotherapy for Psychological Trauma, edited by Robert H. Klein and Victor L. Schermer. New York: Guilford Press, 2000: 64-88.
  • Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: BasicBooks, 1992.
  • Klemper, Mark. Navigating Life Review Interviews with Survivors of Trauma. Oral History Review (2000) 27 (2): 67-83.
  • LaCapra, Dominick. “Holocaust Testimonies: Attending to the Victim’s Voice.” Catastrophe and Meaning: The Holocaust and the Twentieth Century, edited by Moishe Postone and Eric Santner. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003.
  • LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition. 2000.
  • Laub, Dori. “From Speechlessness to Narrative: The Cases of Holocaust Historians and of Psychiatrically Hospitalized Survivors.” Literature and Medicine, 24(2) 2006: 253-265.
  • Lichtblau, Albert. To engage – and to disengage: Keeping distance in Oral History Interviews http://www.oralhistory-productions.org/articles/keepingdistance.htm
  • Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1982.
  • Miller, Donald E. and Lorna Touryan Miller. Survvors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. University of California, 1999.
  • Rogers, Kim Lacy, Selma Leydesdorff (with Graham Dawson) (ed.). Trauma and Life Stories: International Perspectives. Routledge, 1999.
  • Sloan, Stephen. Voices of Katrina http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/253/voices-of-katrina
  • Stamelman, Richard. September 11th: Between Memory and History. In Trauma at Home After 9/11, edited by Judith Greenberg. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
  • Strenger, Carlo. “From Yeshiva to Critical Pluralism: Reflections on the Impossible Project of Individuality.” Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 22:4 (2002): 534-558.
  • Tal, Kali. Worlds of Hurt: Reading Literatures of Trauma. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Twemlow, Stuart W. “A Clinical and Interactionist Perspective on the Bully-Victim-Bystander Relationship.” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 60:3 (1996): 296-313.
  • Watt, Lisa M. and Paul T.P. Wong. “A Taxonomy of Reminiscence and Therapeutic Implications.” Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 16:1 (1991): 37-57.