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 Learning Our Community's American Lore

Primary Sources » Oral Histories

"This is the first time I've had students go out into the community and do interviews of people they knew. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was hoping they would get absorbed and interested, especially if they were interviewing somebody they knew. They definitely got interested – in spite of themselves in some cases - in what they were learning and finding out!"
Mark Dixon, 10th grade, Winthrop

Interviewing people about past events and experiences is an especially effective way of doing history. Good oral histories begin with an interview guide. After reviewing the outlines of the relevant local history—be it that of a specific individual or a community at large—interviewers can build a one-page list of topics to use as a guide during the interview. 

As different from a list of set questions, this list of topics is meant to provide structure without being constraining. With the guide in hand, interviewers can feel flexible enough to follow-up on something unexpected and later return to the list of topics. This approach allows the interview to be both focused and open-ended.

Teachers in the project have had students go out into the community to interview family members and neighbors and have also conducted oral histories in their classrooms by inviting in guests to be interviewed.

Here are some examples of the oral history projects that have been done.

In Revere, for example, middle school students researching the history of the Blizzard of 1978 interviewed the former Superintendent of Schools. Students prepared in advance by researching the blizzard and listing major points of interest. Students then conducted the interview themselves and recorded it on video to use as part of documentary they were producing. 

Revere students videotaping oral history

Carol Tighe, former Superintendent of Schools 

Alicia Kersten's 11th grade history class examined primary sources and conducted oral histories to learn more about the impact of the Vietnam War on Somerville residents and exhibited their findings at the Somerville Museum.
Students planning oral histories  Viewing exhibit at Somerville museum  Viet Vet who was interviewed stands in front of oral history

Mark Dixon's had his 10th grade class learn more about the history of their town through the eyes of a family member. Students interviewed parents and grandparents and presented their findings to the class.

One student prepared a poster Showing various aspects of her grandfathers life, Including the gas station he owned in Winthrop and how it changed over the years

Another student talked about his grandmother's memories of the blizzard of '78 and brought in Boston Globe issues from that time that she had saved  A third student did a power point presentation on his grandfather's life. Shown here is his grandfather's first car

Maria Flanagan's 12th graders did oral histories of impact of 60's in Winthrop. They interviewed teachers, parents and neighbors and then did presentations.

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Oral Histories






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Shore Collaborative  •   Department of Education at Tufts  •   TAH Grant Program
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