Analyzing the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collective

In spring 2016, I taught an English class at Southwestern University titled “Digital Frontiers in American Literature.”  (Check out the Digital Frontiers in American Literature Syllabus here.)

When we think about incorporating an oral history component in teaching, we’re often thinking about oral history projects in which students plan and conduct interviews.  This is an invaluable avenue for student engagement, as evidenced by so many of the course materials, teacher and student reflections, and Library readings on this True Stories blog.  When it comes to identifying the advantages of oral history for interdisciplinary undergraduate education, it’s also important to think about analyzing oral histories that are already up on the internet.  Fantastic oral history projects and collections proliferate across the Web.  How can we harness their power in classroom teaching?

imgresDuring a unit on Helena Maria Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus, I assigned students to put the novel in conversation with oral histories available at the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collective.  The novel centers on the experience of a family of Mexican and Mexican-American farm laborers in the fields of California; the Digital Memory Collective centers on Chicana feminism, which has roots in migrant worker rights movements.  Therefore, the novel and the oral histories valuably contextualize each other.

In response to these Chicana Por Mi Raza Blog Post Guidelines, students wrote blog posts on our course blog to analyze oral history testimony and practice putting it in conversation with course literary texts and themes.  The guidelines walk students through the process of “close-listening” to an oral history, applying critical close-reading skills we prize in the literature classroom to oral history as a unique category of narrative.  Students noted a host of meaningful connections between the novel and the oral histories, ranging from framing of family dynamics to the interweaving of Spanish with English narration.  You can read through the students’ blog posts here.

Telling [True] Stories with Primary Sources from the Archives

This clip of Rollins grads, Jack and Priscilla Northrup (’49), is far from a complete oral history. However, it is a creative example of how primary sources from the archives can help tell the story of interviewees in a powerful way. In this case, historic photos, yearbooks, and an old report card become meaningful artifacts of unique experiences recalled by this lovable duo.

Have you thought about using materials from the archives as a tool in your own oral history work?

If so, what types of sources could help to tell the stories of your oral history subjects?


Welcome to the [True] Stories Project!

The [True] Stories project aims to support classroom-centered, multidisciplinary, and collaborative oral history curricula for undergraduates at three Liberal Arts Colleges (Rollins College, Davidson College, and Southwestern University).  Check out our About page for more details on the project.  Follow our project blog below to see how oral history is playing a role in teaching and learning at all three campuses.

See our Events Calendar for upcoming True Stories webinars, speaker events, and grant documentation deadlines, as well as oral history training, conference, and publishing opportunities.

Are you a faculty or student blogger for True Stories?  See the Blog Guidelines for optional prompts and important login information to get started.