Oral History Project

Transcripts due 4/23/21 //  Final Projects due 5/10/21


The highlight of this semester will be a multi-media oral history project that students will undertake to illustrate an important episode or trend covered in our online textbook, American Yawp.

Annotated Guidelines

By Friday, April 23, students should post a transcript (at least 500 words) from their initial interview(s) at the course website.

  • 2021 PERMISSION FORM (share with your interview subject)
  • Students should consult with Prof. Pinsker over their interview subjects and which lines of questioning to pursue in their interviews, but they are not required to do so.
  • ALL interview subjects MUST fill out a permission form which students should email to Prof. Pinsker.  Interviews may be conducted over Zoom, telephone, email or (with safety protocols) in person.  Students may employ a combination of interview types as part of a series of multiple, follow up conversations, but only a single permission form is required for each subject.
  • Students will be registered at this course WordPress site and will create a post where they will place and format their interview transcript.  Remember to save this post as PRIVATE.  For complete posting instructions at WordPress, consult this handout on Blog Posting Instructions.
  • Students may then build on their initial transcript post placing the essay with footnotes and embedded video above the transcript (which should then be labeled as an appendix).


Interview subject: Richard E. Neustadt, age 79, retired Harvard University professor who worked in the Bureau of the Budget during the late 1940s and served as a junior speechwriter during the 1948 presidential campaign

–Audio recording with Prof. Richard E. Neustadt, Cambridge, MA, September 14, 2002

Q.  Did everybody seem anxious about the polls and how far behind President Truman seemed to be in the contest against Dewey?

A.  “Well, I sure as hell was, and so were some of the others, but I’ll tell you, not Truman. The President knew he was going to win, and didn’t care if he said the wrong thing occasionally or botched a name here and there. He was confident –almost cocky.  It was really something to behold.  I never saw a candidate so sure of himself.”

Special Tips For Oral History Interviewing

  • Best Practices Tips (via Oral History Association)
  • Check out some of this great advice from documentary filmmakers Hannah Ayers & Lance Warren:

  • Also, note this interview with documentary filmmaker Jake Boritt (below); see especially advice on interviewing at 3:50 mark


By Monday, May 10, students should post a full oral history essay that successfully incorporates quoted material from their interview(s) while also putting them into thoughtful historical context using not only American Yawp, but also other relevant primary and secondary sources.

  • Make sure to address a research question and devise a thesis statement that can be effectively argued in a short paper.  Consult the Methods Center handouts on How to Write a Thesis Statement and How to Frame a Research Question
  • Check out these samples:  Sample essay post and Sample outline 
  • Researching widely for historical context is critical for the success of these projects, so please make sure that American Yawp is your starting point, and not your research end point.  Try to deepen your understanding of the period or topic with high quality reference sources, like American National Biography Online or various encyclopedias.  Then take advantage of both the online library catalog (including the clickable subject links from the catalog record) and the full text search capabilities of Google Books [just remember to always identify in your footnotes if you only read a text through 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 secondary source material on your subject.  Finally, to help organize your research effort, please consult the History Research Guide from the Dickinson library.
  • Take to care to evaluate your sources as you deploy them in your essay.  See this methods post on Evaluating Sources for a helpful overall framework.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of integrating your quoted evidence with some degree of fluidity.  Awkwardly inserting quotations is one of the hallmarks of mediocre undergraduate essays.  Consult this handout from the methods center for a range of good tips.

Essays should cover about 4-6 pages (or about 1,200 to 1,500 words) and should include Chicago-style footnotes.

  • As always, make sure you are formatting your footnotes correctly for a history paper.  See this methods handout on How to Use Footnotes and consult as needed with the library’s Chicago-style guide, but make sure to use sample footnote models for formatting and NOT bibliography examples.
  • Check out various model projects in our syllabus and the Student Hall of Fame but pay particular attention to these few examples for successful guidance (though remembering that earlier classes had slightly different assignment guidelines):

Extra Credit Video

Students may submit a video documentary incorporating either audio or video clips from their oral history interviews for up to 5 extra credit points.

  • Consider using the free version of the online platform WeVideo, but you may also consider relying on software such as iMovie or Windows Moviemaker –but just remember that sharing those videos will require you to post them first at an online platform like YouTube.  
  • Remember to provide CLEAR audio narration (either from your own voice or from audio snippets from your interview).  Usually, you can achieve good sound quality simply by recording into your cell phone in a quiet room.  Just speak close to the phone, vary your tone and pacing, and try to sound natural.  
  • Also critical for the success of your video will be images.  Make sure they are high resolution, and be creative in cropping, framing and using tools such as pan & zoom, in order to create a sense of engagement.  Also take care to effectively integrate video clips, especially if you are using them from a platform like Zoom.
  • Finally, make sure any images, music or sound effects are in the public domain and properly credited at the end of your video.  You can find lots of examples of compelling short documentary videos at the House Divided Project YouTube channel.


Grading Rubric

Projects will be graded on depth of analysis, research effort, and quality of prose. Late research submissions will be penalized up to 5 points per day.