Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications


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The students' comments indicate that other less obvious skills, e. These are the type of skills that need to be developed further, because they are not only important in themselves, but also enhance and complement basic oral history skills, such as interviewing techniques and non-verbal behaviour. Apart from the student evaluation forms, the students' questionnaires and interviews also give an indication of the type of skills that are developed by the module. Most students responded to the challenge of asking questions that deal with the issues on campus, as well as national issues.

Noteworthy are, for example, the similarities and differences between the African 5 and white students' questionnaires.

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Almost all the students ask questions about their interviewees' experiences of apartheid and apartheid-related events, e. Notable differences in the types of questions asked by the African and white students are also evident. Popular topics for the African students include the importance of African culture and traditional African names, the interviewees' political awareness and involvement in politics, and the interviewees' experience of racism on the UFS campus.

How To Do Oral History

Almost all the African students asked their interviewees for their personal views of the widely publicised Reitz incident of February Volksblad, ; Rapport, ; Beeld, On the other hand, the white students, especially the Afrikaans-speaking students, favour questions on the importance of family traditions, the issue of Afrikaner identity in a multi-racial society, the interviewees' experience of the political uncertainties of the post South Africa, and also the issue of affirmative action and the interviewees' views on this issue.

Most white male students also include questions about apartheid-era military service and conscription and how the male interviewees experienced it. It is interesting to note that while almost all the white students asked interviewees to share their views and experiences of South Africa's crime problem, almost no African student touched on the issue.

Also noteworthy is the fact that no white student asked any questions about the Reitz incident. The students' probing questions also followed these general patterns. What do the students' questionnaires and interviews reveal about the type of skills developed and the potential of oral history as a skills development tool?

Apart from evidence that the students learn to form opinions to become critical thinkers, their questionnaires and interviews also indicate the value of the life history interview for skills development. Particularly important is the opportunity provided for students to apply the principles of basic historical enquiry and analysis to their interviewees' life histories. By interviewing people that are older, diverse and more experienced than they are, the students are exposed to new historical insights and perspectives that enrich and sharpen their historical knowledge and awareness.

In the process the students as interviewers take ownership of their interviews and the information they have gained from the interviewees.

The interviewees' use of terms and acronyms from previous eras that are mostly unknown to them, e. As part of the partial editing of their transcriptions, the students are expected to clarify such terms and acronyms and explain e. In the process, the students are not only encouraged to conduct further research, but they also create new knowledge.

Another aspect of skills development that should be mentioned is that the students also discover and understand how similar historical events affect people in different ways. This process expands their historical consciousness of not only what happened, but also of how it happened and of the meaning of what happened. For example, one such event is South Africa's first democratic election of Most students do have a basic historical knowledge of this significant event, but they were too young to experience it themselves.

By interviewing older people who experienced it, they obtain political and historical insight into how it was experienced on a personal level. This issue features prominently in most students' questionnaires, which is an indication that they are curious to know more than just the basic written facts. Our experience is that even third-year History students possess very limited knowledge of recent South African history and by interviewing more experienced people they significantly broaden their historical knowledge base.

During the past nine years it has become obvious that oral history as a skills development tool for undergraduate students is unlimited in scope and possibility. It is also evident that oral history is an effective tool for developing the type of skills that students need to function effectively in a diverse, complex and changing society.

Students are exposed to different viewpoints; they learn how to interview members of other cultural groups and are exposed to the potential of oral history for interdisciplinary research. Furthermore, the students also become aware of the myriad of possible applications of the oral history technique. The oral history skills' usefulness is not limited to History, but extends to other disciplines including Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology and Media Studies, to name a few.

Based on these observations, it appears that an oral history module such as the one offered by the History Department at the Free State University has become essential for students who want to develop various skills. By empowering the students with the above-mentioned skills, which are increasingly demanded by a knowledge-driven economy, it also increases their employability.

From the oral history module will be expanded: it will count 16 credits and approximately 12 lectures will be presented. Even more emphasis will be placed on the practical part of the module in order to strengthen the developing of skills. With increasing student numbers the new module will also include group work, focusing on themes such as social justice, reconciliation, global diversity and community history.

Group work is considered essential because research has shown that most students learn more easily when they work in collaboration with others Maclellan, ; Reach and Teach, s. It is the lecturers' aim with this module to focus increasingly on key issues of constructivism, including problem-solving, creating knowledge and the handling of challenging situations. It is important that students learn how to cope with situations they encounter when dealing with the real physical and social world.

Students learn effectively by being involved and active in the learning process; therefore, we want to establish an experiential environment where opportunities for deep learning are created. Finally, it is important for us that the oral history module also benefits the University and society as a whole. On 27 January the UFS launched The International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice with the purpose of "linking the manifestations of race in higher education, to the related matters of reconciliation and social justice in the South African context against the backdrop of racial and ethnic conflicts in the world" Bloemnews, We foresee our participation in this Institute's training, development and dialogue platform as oral history lends itself to addressing these issues.

Future students may successfully utilise the Institute as a possible research and resource centre, as well as a place of internship. Du Bruyn was an employee at this Archive before he moved to the National Museum. For more detail on memory and the challenges it poses for the oral historian as an historical source of information, see Ritchie, ; H Slim, P Thomson, O Bennett, N Cross eds , Listening for a change.

For more detail on ethical issues while doing oral history, see VR Yow , Recording oral history. A practical guide for social scientists, For the purpose of this article the term 'Africans' includes black people, Coloureds and Indians. By using the term 'Africans', no negative connotation or prejudice is implied towards the people grouped in this way. The University of the Free State encountered controversy in late February following a video made by four white male students of the Reitz residence in protest against racial integration at the university. The video showed five black workers of the university being subjected to various activities, including being forced to eat food which appeared to have been urinated on.

Thinking about oral history : theories and applications

Both the South African and international media covered this incident. The video was widely condemned and led to unrest and racial discord among the students. The Reitz hostel was closed by the council of the university as a result of this incident.

Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at, are the author's own, and are not necessarily to be attributed to the NRF. Beeld Reitz-4 'het te swaar straf gekry', 14 June. Bloemnews Tutu to receive honorary degree from UFS, 21 January. Bonner, PL, s. New nation, new history: the History workshop in South Africa, As accessed on 8 March Caunce, S Oral history and the local historian.


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London: Longman. Constructivist discourses and the field education: Problems and possibilities. Educational Theory, 52 4 Du Bruyn, D National Museum, Bloemfontein. Oral testimonies as a source of community history, with special reference to the Batho project, Bloemfontein. South African Journal of Cultural History, 24 2 The do's and don'ts of interviewing in the African culture: An introductory guide. Military Museum, Bloemfontein, July.

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The use of oral history as a teaching tool at tertiary level. Oliewenhuis , Bloemfontein, 7 August.

New Workshops: Oral History Winter School | H-Podcast | H-Net

Private oral history photo collection. Social Memory. Oxford: Blackwell. Golding, C The many faces of constructivist discussion. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43 5 Claxton's concept mini-theories include both gut and lay mini-theories. Gut mini-theories are usually the result of learners' first and unthinking response to the question. Lay mini-theories on the other hand are influenced by the media, which in this case could include war films or computer games.

It goes without saying that the basis for lay mini-theories is fictional and therefore not historically accurate. As museum visits are often not encouraged by many South African schools, however, oral sources are suggested as it also provides a window in to the past thought which learners may catch a glimpse of the historical context. The structured engagement with and critical analysis of the POW oral testimony serves to restructure learners' mini-theories by making clear to learners the motivations of people in the past, showing learners that the past is more than "a pre-existing present" 24 and that different factors contributed towards decisions and events in the past.

Following a brief discussion on the reasons for war and possible reasons to volunteer for war, the extracts wherein former POWs explained their reasons for volunteering, are shared with the learners. The extracts reflect different reasons why young men volunteered, showing both the unique individual and the general nature of their decisions: Because I was 17, there was a war on and I didn't want to miss it, you know it was sort of a boys' adventure story Well at 19 years old we obviously had a pretty fair idea of right and wrong and we'd been recognising over the years that Hitler was a threat to peace and ruining the lives of [a] great many people and so I think we joined up out of principle..?

I signed up when Germany came through Belgium and the war is now really on. As the learners are already familiar with the basic information of the theme, in other words they have already mastered the first or "knowledge" level of Bloom's cognitive stages, 31 the students are asked questions in order to prompt critical analysis of the primary oral sources, the questions are:. What words did each man use to tell us about the reason why he volunteered? This question is aimed at prompting learners to read the extract more carefully, to consider the meaning of specific words and to discuss possible reasons why the former POW may have used that specific word instead of another.

What do these words tell us about why each man decided to go to war? Once learners have analysed the language more closely, this question should prompt them to find a link between the text and the person, in other words, they should realise that written words, i. Through a guided discussion this question should make learners aware of the common humanity that so often play a role in the shaping of historical events and that is also relevant in both the past and the present, thereby showing learners that the past is different in certain aspects, but also similar to the present in other aspects.

What do these extracts reveal about each man's personality? The answers to this question should indicate to learners the difference between the individual and the general experience. If learners fail to realise that historical events affected individuals in a person way, they will also fail to realise the human aspect of the past, making it even more irrelevant to them.

What does the extract reveal about each man's sense of responsibility, or his values and beliefs? This question is aimed at creating an awareness of the extent to which values and beliefs have changed since these men decided to participate in the war, making learners aware of the fact that in some ways certain aspects of society remain the same, but in other aspects value systems change. This would also be a good opportunity to introduce the concept of benefit of hindsight to learners and sensitise them to the idea that present-day historians cannot judge decisions of historical characters as these people did not have the advantage of knowing the outcome of their decisions.

By analysing the oral history extracts, learners gain a better understanding of the former POWs' decisions for volunteering, thereby making the context clearer and improving students' understanding of the past.

Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications
Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications

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