Institute for Local and Oral History discusses research

IUS Horizon

IU Southeast contains many educational programs which services to students.

One of the programs is the Institute for Local and Oral History.

The institute, established in 2008, prepares students for careers in history fields. Not only do students receive internships, but they also take part in a variety of research projects and events.

“The institute is to prepare students with some fundamental entry level skills,” Carl Kramer, director for local and oral history, said.

“It’s to take what they’ve learned  in the classrooms and to go out and enhance those skills through both courses and work experiences that will help them prepare for entry into the job market,” he said.

One of the projects the institute has to offer involves research of oral history in the community.

By taking a course, students learn the theory and methods of oral history. They then apply those concepts to record the memories of local citizens.

“For generations, historians have focused their research area on documents, letters, diaries and newspapers,” Kramer said.

“Several decades back, some historians started working on the realization that the stories of real people, the personal narrative of people, were also a useful source,” he said.

Students who participate in the oral history project interview ordinary people such as relatives, friends and older citizens.

Some of the people who have been interviewed include a teacher who started out in one-room schools, an African American who fought in WWII and a retired lawyer.

“They are all for the most part people who were not distinguished people in the sense that they were prominent public figures,” Kramer said. “They were people who lived ordinary lives, but whose live experiences taken in larger numbers become a significant part of our history.”

Kramer said during the course students learn how oral history developed and the legal and ethical obligations.

They also find out how to prepare an interview as well as topics to address in an interview.

“The course provides students with the opportunity to learn the technique, the method, the theory of oral history, but overtime their interviews become a part of a larger oral history project,” Kramer said.

Another important program in the institute is the Lewis and Clark Expedition Summer Institution. For three weeks in June, a seminar is conducted on the theoretical and historical aspects of the expedition and its importance to this area.

“This is the area where Lewis and Clark met and where they trained and recruited,” Kramer said.

“By the time final members were recruited, about a third were from Kentucky and Southern Indiana so that’s an important aspect of our history that’s tied up in a major national event,” he said.

A workshop is also taught for teachers in elementary and secondary education.

The goal is for teachers to take what they learn about the expedition and apply it in the classroom setting.

The program also deals with numerous themes of history including Native and African Americans, geography, astronomy and geology.

“While we focus on the Lewis and Clark expedition we also talk about the other major expeditions that occurred, a couple of which began while Lewis and Clark were still out west, that continued on for decades,” Kramer said. “We look at the expedition not only as itself but in its larger context.”

Kramer said the history of oral history has come a long way. At first, it included only significant people who made diplomatic and political decisions.

However, over time, historians began to document the lives of the working class and minorities.

“Some historians realized we need to interview the people whose stories aren’t being told and if you interview enough of these people you start getting experiences of people not only as individuals, but what life was like for those people,” he said.

The institute is a five year program that was proposed by the history faculty. However, the future of the program is unknown.

“The intention is to continue it and the hope is for it to become an ongoing part of the history program,” Kramer said.

“I would love to see it become a full-time program with a director who is a full-time faculty member,” he said.

Through documenting human history, students can gain experience towards their majors.

“Students realize that history isn’t something that occurs in capitols, battle fields or other distant events,” Kramer said. “History is the sum narrative of our experiences and that we all play a part. It’s not a matter that we have a part to play; it’s a matter that what happens to us and what we do is part of history.” he said.

CLAIRE MUNN

Staff Writer

clamunn@umail.iu.edu