Oral History Project

Research due by April 9  // Final Essays due by April 30


Students should be able to conduct an oral history interview, which can support an engaging online essay that addresses a significant development in U.S. history between 1945 and 2000.

How to Begin

  • During Spring Break, students should identify an interview subject who can remember participating in some event or era (pre-2000) described by H.W. Brands in his survey of US history since 1945 (American Dreams).  Make sure this family member or friend is willing to participate in the project and will be available to you for multiple interviews. Students must secure written permission from their subjects.
  • Interview with filmmaker Jake Boritt (below); see especially advice on interviewing at 3:50 mark


Researching in Secondary Sources

To help improve your understanding of context, begin with a careful reading of the sections of the Brands book relevant to your topic.  Remember to consult both his endnotes and index from American Dreams.  Then continue your research using high quality reference sources, like American National Biography Online (Library Database finder) and Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, Encyclopedia of US Political History, or Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History (all via database finder).  Take advantage of both the online library catalog (including the clickable subject links from the catalog record) and Google Books.  Also, make sure to use specialized journal databases like JSTOR and America: History & Life (both via library database finder) to help find relevant articles on your subject.  Most timelines and final essays will demonstrate a mix of research into various types of sources, and will provide citations to at least a few or perhaps even several published sources in addition to Brands and the oral history interview itself.  To help organize your research effort, please consult the History Research Guide from the Dickinson library.

Research Assignment Details

  • BY MONDAY, APRIL 9 [REVISED],  students should post at the course website a selected transcript of their initial interview Q&A, along with an embedded TimelineJS that provides a concise, graphic summary of the event or era under study using properly credited secondary sources with accompanying historic images from the public domain.  Make sure to build your timeline with excerpts from the best available scholarly books or articles to help improve your understanding of context.  You may in some cases also use primary sources (like historical newspapers or published memoirs), but focus your timeline research on secondary sources. Each research post should begin with an epigraph or snippet of quotation from Brand’s American Dreams that covers the subject of your project.  Then provide a short abstract of a few sentences describing your subject’s life and career and your relationship to him or her.  Then provide your edited interview transcript and your embedded Timeline.  Each transcript should cover at least 500 words and each timeline should provide at least six entries.  Late transcripts and timelines will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

Essay Details 

  • BY MONDAY, APRIL 30 [REVISED], students should post a thoughtful online essay (about 1,500 words) that explains how their oral history helps to address some important element of the book American Dreams. For this essay, students should use a variety of primary and secondary sources. Essays should include footnotes (using numbers in brackets) that follow Chicago humanities style rules. Students who supplement their posts with well-produced audio or video snippets from their interviews can also receive up to 5 extra credit points.  Late posts will be penalized up to 5 points per day. The best oral history projects will also be published at the course website and at the Dickinson Survey and might be used in future History 118 courses.

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

Grading Rubric

  • The quality of the prose, strength of the research effort, and depth of the historical analysis will determine the grades for this project.