By Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist
Internet fanfiction archives and the National Parasite Collection both use a common practice: Oral history.
The “Getting Started with Oral History” workshop is open for registration until Jan. 31. For a fee of $100, the course includes two three-hour classes on consecutive Wednesday’s, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m on Feb. 7 and 14. Each class contains three microsessions, focusing on a different skill for oral history. Participants complete assigned readings, a design project and ultimately their own interview. Upon completing the course, students are given a certificate of completion. In addition to the certificate, participating Texas K-12 teachers who complete the course are eligible for ten CPE credits because Baylor is a certified provider of Continuing Professional Education through Texas Education Agency.
Oral history analyzes events and historic trends using interviews from people with firsthand experience with the subject.
The online course is open to all interested, a member of academia or not, according to Steven Sielaff, Baylor Institute of Oral History senior editor and collections manager.
“With our online workshop, you could literally take it in your pajamas if you wanted to,” Sielaff said.
Sielaff said people from “all walks of life” and professions take the workshop. According to Stephen M. Sloan, Baylor Institute of Oral History director, workshop participants on campus use oral history for anything from projects to theses.
“More people are embracing forms of qualitative research like oral history,” Sloan said. “These different groups are trying to understand the history of whatever they’re in, or the story of whatever they’re in. They’re turning to oral history to do that.”
Conducting oral history is like creating a primary source, Sielaff said. Sielaff said the workshop introduces a methodology of research to students of in all fields. In addition, he believes it “looks good on a resume if they’ve taken a course, or conducted some interviews themselves.”
Adrienne Cain, Baylor Institute of Oral History assistant director since 2016, initially took the “Getting Started with Oral History” workshop in 2013 when she was a librarian conducting and preserving interviews. Cain now teaches a microsession in the workshops.
“It really helped in my career starting out as an oral historian, because the basics you learn,” Cain said. “There’s so much you learn in the workshop, not only for newbies, but also for people who have been at it in a while and need a refresher.”
Sloan said the Baylor Institute of Oral History has the largest collection of interviews in Texas and one of the leading programs in the country. The Baylor Institute of Oral History receives requests for workshops.
“My thought in developing an online workshop is that we can consolidate a lot of those requests, but also we can touch people in areas that there’s never going to be a large enough group,” Sloan said.
Since starting the online workshops in 2009, Sloan said his team has worked to increase interactivity. Last year, the Baylor Institute for Oral History transitioned from using Blackboard to Cisco WebEx. The program provides a microphone and chat box for students to engage and ask questions.
For the first time, Sloan will dedicate a time in the beginning of the class for participants to share the focus of their oral history projects.
“A lot of these folks are working in isolation on oral history, and they may not have networks of support,” Sloan said. “I think they’re looking for what a lot of people are looking for online. They’re looking for a community of others that can understand and engage and inform the kind of research they’re doing.”
Baylor Institute of Oral History staff challenge students to host a public event to share the findings of their final research project.
“I’ve seen a lot of writing about how we need more people out there doing history, and promoting history, instead of just staying in their own little library,” Sielaff said.
Sielaff encouraged the idea of “public history,” where historians, much like scientists, can hire lobbyists and other efforts to make their work better understood by the public.
“It’s a wonderful intersection when it comes to what we call ‘spreading the gospel of oral history’ of informing not only them of their opportunities, but also the people around them to learn what they’re researching,” Sielaff said.
Cain said oral history amplifies less circulated perspectives, providing the public with a more complete history.
To Sloan, oral history is a democratic form of answering questions and telling history. Sloan said oral history “levels the playing field and lets everyone speak into history.”
“They [oral historians] are trying to grasp something that is not permanent,” Sloan said. “It’s not going to be preserved unless oral historians work to make sure that it’s captured.”
For examples of oral history at work, view Baylor Institute of Oral History ongoing projects on their website.