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Chatham University

Volume III: Oral History

AFRICAN AND ABORIGINAL ORAL TRADITIONS AND THE VISUAL ARTS
Ruth Bedeian
John Minadeo School

This unit is an exploration of the visual arts of Africa and Australia and how oral traditions influence the art forms. The ethnographic societies on the African and Australian continents have much in common in their view of art and artists, and their role in the community. The unit examines African and Aboriginal artists of Australia and discovers many parallels and contrasts. They both have deep reverence for their ancestors and the influence they exert on the living. They believe the role of art is that of a spiritual vehicle for cultural beliefs.  Both hold the view that art is not so much about self expression but expressing the spirit of the people.  Oral traditions are discussed and lessons are designed which allow students to explore this aspect of the art works and to incorporate oral history into their exploration of the two continents and two artistic traditions.

Students will be able to view through books and video on the internet and the listed DVD’s many of these art works in context.  Since so many of the objects discussed are often of deep spiritual significance to these societies, I did not include black and white illustrations of the objects as it was felt by this writer that it would be far more beneficial for students and others to see these objects in context, rather than to have them simplified, and perhaps even trivialized in black and white drawings. Excellent sources for hands on reproductions which can be displayed in class are those from Crystal Art Reproductions which has a catalog for reproductions for the visual arts classroom.  These as well as other resources outlined in the bibliography will provide a far better understanding of the cultural significance of the artworks.


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The Civil Rights Movement Nationally and Locally with an Oral History Component
Lea Blumenfeld
Grandview/Lincoln Technology

 “The Civil Right Movement, with its compelling images of American citizens, black and white, young and old, male and female, resisting nonviolently the wrath of segregation’s supporters--the police dogs and water hoses, the KKK and church bombings, the defiant governors and heckling mobs--has come to symbolize the world’s struggle for human rights.”  Dr. Laurence Glasco, Associate Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh

One purpose of this unit is for the classes to learn about the Civil Rights Movement.  They will do this in part by examining and collecting oral histories related to the Movement.  The current social studies and language arts curricula include the Civil Rights Movement to a limited extent, but not oral history.  Because children have a difficult time placing historical events into perspective and often don’t recognize the significance of past events for them, collecting history will help make the topic more meaningful to the classes as well as help the children place this part of our past into historical perspective.  Another purpose is for the pupils to learn about the ordinary folks who helped to right the wrongs of the country and the city.  A third purpose is for the classes to discover that children and young people participated in the struggle for civil rights.  A fourth purpose is to provide students the opportunity to see how history is created and written, to encourage them to be historians.  Since the library connects with all other subjects and all other faculty, this curriculum unit is interdisciplinary.  It is mostly addressed to fifth graders and fourth graders in library science and social studies.  The language arts, social studies, music, and art teachers will be teaching the unit also.  It can be adapted for higher grades as well.  Parts of it can be used in the third grade.


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Were You in Homewood in the Sixties?: An Oral History
Zuri M. Bryant
Faison Intermediate Arts Academy

This historic education and preservation unit, produced as a result of the Oral History seminar, is a collaboration between the students at Faison Intermediate Arts Academy, the Homewood Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Western PA Historical Society and the community of Homewood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Throughout this text, I mention Homewood specifically, but this unit and the activities within can take place in any community and at any grade level. I teach eighth grade Communications (English grammar and Reading combined) at Faison. As a part of the History Channel’s Save Our History program, I have also applied for a grant to assist in the preparation and presentation of the final product of the unit. It can be done without the additional funds, but we’re trying to create artifacts that will stay with the community for years to come. Those artifacts will be professionally produced.

Throughout the unit, the students become experts in their community’s history around the time of the Civil Rights Movement through the limited resources available and what is garnered from their interviewees. They will research the Homewood history documentation, determine the types of questions they need to ask based on the gaps in the information, interview their subjects, and create a museum exhibit of photos, vocal recordings and written documents.


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Giving Voice to History
Kathleen F. Dragone
Helen S. Faison Intermediate Arts Academy

The purpose of Giving Voice to History is to help bring the novels read in middle school classrooms to life, although it can be adjusted for just about any grade level.  As you will soon find out, there is a reason that it is hard for teenagers to empathize with, or see the point of view of, the characters in the books they are required to read in school.  The use of oral history will help them actually step into the shoes of people that have been in similar situations, thus adding to their interest in the story.  An example from this year’s curriculum would be the book Out of the Dust, which is about a teenage girls struggle during the depression and the Dust Bowl of the mid-west.  City teenagers have no similar experience to draw from and this causes boredom right away.  By interviewing, or listening to oral history interviews from the past, students will see that there were actual people affected and hear their voices, validating the novel.  This unit will explore three ways to start oral history discussions: objects, people, and places.  Three novels from the Pittsburgh Public School eighth grade curriculum will be used as examples, but again, can be modified for any novel.


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Oral History How-To for Middle School
Karen L. Ferraro
Pittsburgh Manchester K-8

“What is oral history?” and “How can we use it in our Communications Curriculum?  Donald A. Ritchie states, “Simply put, oral history collects spoken memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews.  An oral history interview generally consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and recording their exchange on audio or videotape.  Tapes of the interview are transcribed, summarized, or indexed and then placed in a library or archives.” 

In the Pittsburgh Public middle school curricula the novels Out of the Dust, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,and Bud Not Buddy are read through the course of the year.  The setting of Out of the Dust is Oklahoma in 1934 where a family is struggling through tough financial times on their farm in the Dust Bowl.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is set in Mississippi at the height of the Great Depression between 1933 and 1934 and Bud, Not Buddy is set in the United States during the Great Depression, specifically the Midwest in 1936. 

This unit is designed for sixth, seventh, or eighth grade middle school students to use oral history as a means to discover information relating to the setting of the novel they are reading.  Students can either conduct an oral history or use documented oral histories to enhance their knowledge base prior to reading or during reading.  During the Great Depression, many things changed for Americans and a deeper understanding of the plight of a “real” person can lend deeper understanding to a character in a fictional novel while enhancing student knowledge of history.  This unit will focus on what oral history is, how to conduct an oral history, and how to use the existing oral history records.  As a culminating project, students will review existing oral history documents, report their findings in writing as it relates to a character, and then present a speech or PowerPoint presentation. 


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The Canterbury Tales and Oral History
Kristen Kurzawski
Pittsburgh Brashear
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This unit is designed for an AP English Literature course, but it is easily adapted to any senior level English course. The goals of this unit are for my students to gain some understanding of the High Middle Ages and the roles of people within that society, and for that historical knowledge to be used as a lens for examining the tales and the framing device of The Canterbury Tales.  This will require that my students complete a research project prior to reading Chaucer.  They will present their research to the class, so that we can cover a variety of topics. Additionally, we will use techniques and concepts from oral history to examine the tales.  This will result in two final projects for the unit.  The first will be a recreation of The Canterbury Tales. The students will identify people in modern society that hold positions similar to those held by the pilgrims.  Then the students will interview people, asking them to tell a story in a similar vein to the one within Chaucer’s collection.  The students will then write up the stories and we will assemble them in our own version of The Canterbury Tales. This project requires the students to demonstrate a deep understanding of each of the tales, the roles of the pilgrims within society, interviewing skills, and storytelling skills. The other final project will ask them to consider the value of analyzing the tales for historical and cultural information about the High Middle Ages.  This will be a more traditional analytical paper which addresses many of the skills needed on the AP exam and required by state standards.


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Written History Contrasted with Oral History
Laurel McMahon
Student Achievement Center

After reading some of the assigned text, Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide by Donald A. Ritchie, I was struck by the passage that read, “Although archival documents have the advantage of not being influenced by later events or otherwise changing over time, as an interviewee might, documents are sometimes incomplete, inaccurate, and deceiving.” Ritchie goes onto write, “Until the 1960s, most general circulation newspapers ignored news from black communities.  As a result of such blind spots, oral history can develop information that might not have appeared in print.” (Ritchie 26)  Because the majority of my students are African American, I thought they may have some interest in this and put this statement to the test.  The assignment would be to research an event in history before 1960, involving the black community and then interview a person who lived through the event and see how their recollection is different from what they read.  I would have students pre-write the questions they were to ask.  I would also ask student to tape record their interviews to be saved in the schools library.
           
After the interviews were complete I would have students share with the class their findings.  Students would also be asked to make a transcript of the interview and complete a display board to go along with their presentation.  The idea is for students to take interest in their learning and to build intergenerational bridges with family members. Student will also have a better understand of Oral Histories and their importance because they will have had the full experience of doing one.  Finally, students will be modeling and teaching each other on topics that are of interest to them, making the information more fascinating to everyone.  


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Singing the News: The Corrido Then and Now
Ilene Scoratow
Colfax Accelerated Learning Academy

This is a unit written for fifth grade Spanish students to help them connect language learning to other disciplines, namely Social Studies and Music through corridos; a specific genre of Mexican Music. Students will learn about this style of music and compare the songs from the time of the Mexican Revolution to other documents from this same period and analyze the different viewpoints represented in the various artifacts as well as discuss the value the songs have from an historical standpoint. The students will also analyze newer corridos and compare them to their knowledge, as well as articles, revolving around current events, in this case, the election of President Barack Obama. This unit brings students into contact with a form of preserving a culture’s popular history through song, that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.


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Using Oral History to Lead to Writing Fluency
Elouise E. White-Beck
Taylor Allderdice High School

This ten-day unit is intended for high school students in English or writing class but could be easily adapted to any grade level or content area.  Students will tell their own stories after a short study of what storytelling is and what it can do.  Writing down stories that have been told and then writing down their own stories will complete the process of thinking/speaking/writing that is so difficult for some students to accomplish.  Ample activities and worksheets are provided for reproduction in the appendices.


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“You’ve Got “Male”: Finding Male Role Models in the African-American Community
Dana R. Williams
Pittsburgh Miller


This unit revolves around having students find positive male role models in their families and the community. The unit can be integrated into any Communications and/or Social Studies curriculum. The unit was designed to be used with fifth grade students with learning disabilities. This unit can be modified and adapted to be used for higher or lower level ability students.

The students will become “role model researchers.” With checklist and interview questions in hand, our mini “role model researchers” will set off to find male figures that fit the criteria (student defined). These figures will range from people the students know to people supplied by the community (community centers, senior citizen homes, churches, etc) and/or myself. The checklist will help the students in finding fitting role models to interview. The students will conduct “preliminary” interviews to see if the interviewees are fit for the project.

After students conduct their “preliminary” interviews, they will prepare to do their secondary interviews. These interviews will be used through the remainder of the project. After the interviews take place, the students will come together and listen to the interviews that each of their peers conducted. The students will discuss the dialogue and decide if each interviewee can be deemed as an appropriate role model. The students will then create writing pieces around the topic of their role model and why they can be considered role models. The writing pieces will be published and combined into a portfolio for each student.


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Chatham University
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Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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