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History 394 [33121] and 594 [33122]: Workshop in Oral History / Readings and Practicum in Oral and Video History
Fall, 2009
Time: Tuesdays, 2:45-5:35

Instructor: Prof. Gerald Zahavi
Room: SS 145
Office Hours: Mon. 1:30-3:30 and Tues. 10:00-12:00
          (and by appointment)
Office: SS 060R

Email: zahavi@albany.edu
Phone: 442-54


[updated: 9-1-2009]

Course Description:

This course explores the collection and use of oral and video evidence/testimony -- in the form of oral histories conducted by researchers and scholars -- in the construction of historical narratives and in the documentation of historical processes and events. We’ll review various theoretical perspectives on memory and oral/video interviewing, and give particular attention to the problems that arise when historians evoke, record, and interpret the memories of those who lie outside their own experiential and ideological horizons. We’ll also address the various ethical and legal issues that researchers might confront throughout this process. The course examines the various ways in which oral/video histories are used in books and articles, films/videos, radio productions, and on the World Wide Web (WWW). Class members will read and analyze several historical works heavily grounded in oral history, watch (film/video) and listen to (audio/radio) documentaries in which oral history interviews are key components, and explore some examples of the use of oral/video histories on the WWW; they will also learn how to conduct and record oral and video interviews. From in-class discussions of memory, reliability, and historical distortion, to interview theory; from review of ethical and legal issues pertaining to "human subject research," to technical instruction on the use of audio and video equipment -- this course is designed to teach students both critical/analytical and practical skills, and to demonstrate the potential of this important research methodology.

The following topics will be covered in this course:

  • Introduction to oral and video history
  • Memory, truth and distortion in oral history: questions of subjectivity and reliability
  • Ethical and legal aspects of oral history
  • The interview process and creating oral "texts" (pre-interview preparation, questions, technical issues, post-interview, follow-up)
  • Racial, ethnic, gender, psychological, and ideological barriers and challenges in oral interviewing
  • Utilizing oral history in research/print
  • Transcribing, and indexing oral histories
  • Editing oral interviews for print and production
  • Archiving oral history (sound quality, tape preservation, tape duplication)
  • Oral history as public history: radio, theatre, and public presentation
  • Introduction to videohistory and documentary film/video making
  • Oral history and the world wide web



You will need access to an audio recorder or video camera. We DO have a few available for short-term loan, to help you complete assigned projects. Ideally,  for more extensive recording and maximum flexibility, you should consider purchasing a good quality portable recorder and a stand-alone microphone (not cheap MP3 recorders!!). You can obtain recorders through local audio/video specialty shops (in the Albany, NY area -- places like The Guitar Center, or Audio Visual Sales and Service), or through professional audio suppliers that sell on line, such as B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio Corp [www.bhphotovideo.com], BSW [http://www.bswusa.com], Bradley Broadcast [http://www.bradleybroadcast.com], Sweetwater [http://www.sweetwater.com], and Full Compass [http://www.fullcompass.com]). E-Bay can be a good source of used equipment, if you take the sellers' rating seriously! Stay away from sellers who don't have a proven and good track record. I'll have lots more to say about recorders in class.


You will need to have specialized audio processing software on your computers. We will utilize mainly Audacity in this class -- a free and easy-to-use program available for PC and Mac users. Some of you might already be familiar with some other, non-free, software packages, such as Adobe Audition (one of my personal favorites and one I use regularly to prepare segments for radio), Sony's Sonic Foundry (which contains an  excellent integrated sound indexing feature),  Pro Tools, or other digital editing suites. Feel free to use whatever you are most comfortable with but my technical instructions will focus entirely on Audacity. Below are links to AUDACITY, AUDITION, and SOUND FORGE.

1) AUDACITY: audacity.sourceforge.net>
2) AUDITION: http://www.adobe.com/products/audition/main.html>
3) SOUND FORGE: http://www.sonymediasoftware.com/Products/ShowProduct.asp?PID=961

Writing, Project, and Oral Presentation Requirements:

Assignments will be in the form of on-line discussions, practical exercises,  short essays, projects, and (for graduate students) a final paper/project. Please make sure that all essays submitted follow citation guidelines outlined in Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (latest edition). Several excellent on-line footnoting and writing guides are available; for a guide to footnoting, go to: TURABIAN/CHICAGO STYLE GUIDE. For an on-line guide to grammar go to: PURDUE UNIVERSITY: GUIDE TO GRAMMAR, SPELLING, PUNCTUATION.


  1. on-line (Blackboard) and class participation (20%)
  2. essays and projects (40%
  3. final paper/project -- 10 pages (40%). Must utilize at least one original interview conducted and fully processed (recording, release, index, partial or full transcription, log, etc.) I will go into more details on this in class.


  1. on-line (Blackboard) and class participation (20%)
  2. essays and projects (40%
  3. final paper/project (40%) -- 20 pages [based on two or more oral and/or video interviews conducted during the course of the semester; OR a multimedia project utilizing two or more interviews, and including substantial original writing.

Academic Dishonesty (University policy):

It is assumed that your intellectual labor is your own. If there is any evidence of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, the minimum penalty will be an automatic failing grade for that piece of work. Plagiarism is taking (which includes purchasing) the words and ideas of another and passing them off as one's own work. If another person's work is quoted directly in a formal paper, this must be indicated with quotation marks and a citation. Paraphrased or borrowed ideas are to be identified by proper citations.

Required Reading (selections from the following works):

Core Text:Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History: Practical Advice and Reasonable Explanations for Anyone. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Additional readings selected from:
Jane Latour, Sisters in The Brotherhoods: Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York City (Palgrave, 2008); Joel Makower, Woodstock: The Oral History (Doubleday, 1989); Thomas . Chalton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless, eds., Handbook of Oral History (Altamira, 2006); Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd edition (Altamira, 2005); Barbara W. Somer and Mary Kay Quinlan, The Oral History Manual, 2nd edition (Altamira, 2009); and miscellaneous articles, chapters, manuscripts, documents, and text/audio interview selections from various sources, available on reserve and/or on the course's Blackboard site.

Recommended Journals:

There are two major English-language journals that extensively cover oral history methodology and practice: Oral History Review and International Journal of Oral History. Students interested in keeping up with the field should become familiar with both. Those looking for a comprehensive and relatively up-to-date bibliography on methodology and works that utilize oral history should peruse Donald A. Ritchie's bibliography at the end of Doing Oral History.


Please note that the recommended readings section of this syllabus will be updated and revised during the course of the semester.

Tuesday, September 1: Introduction to the Course

Tuesday, September 8: Truth, Untruth, Facts, and Memory in Oral History

1) Where is "truth" in oral history? 2) How do we verify oral history? 3) Is oral history reliable and/or valid? 4) How -- and to what extent -- does memory serve the present? 5) To what extent is oral history about what happened -- and to what extent is it about how what happened was remembered? 6) Is "memory" as factual as "events"? 7) How do we differentiate between "dependable" and "un-dependable" witnesses in oral history?

Required Readings:

1) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp.19-46 [Course Textbook]

2) Studs Terkel, Hard Times (New Press, 1998), (selections).

3) Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History, Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1991), pp. 1-26 ("The Death of Luigi Trastulli,").

4) Alice Hoffman and Howard Hoffman, Archives of Memory: A Soldier Recalls World War II (University Press of Kentucky, 1990). Selections.

5) Studs Terkel, Jan Vansina, Alice Kessler Harris, Dennis Tedlock, Saul Benison, Ronald J. Grele, "It's Not the Song, It's the Singing: Panel discussion on Oral History," in Ronald J. Grele, ed., Envelopes of Sound.

6) Rebecca Sharpless, "The History of Oral History," in Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. yers, and Rebeccas Sharpless, eds.,  Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications (AltaMira Press, 2008).

Recommended Readings:

1) John C. Dann, ed., The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War of Independence (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), xi-39. (forward, introduction, and chapter 1).

2) Thucydides, History of the Peloponneisan War (translated by Richard Crawley). Chapter 1 & 2.

Tuesday, September 15: Distance and Insight / Inside and Outside: Racial, Gender, Ethnic, Psychological, and Ideological Boundaries in Oral Interviewing

Required Readings:

1) Valerie Raleigh Yow, "Interpersonal Relations in the Interview," (chapter 6 of Recording Oral History)

2) Alison Owings, Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1993). Selection.

3) Selection from After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. “The View from the Bottom Rail.”

4) Keith Walker, A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam (selections).

5) Mary Palevsky, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter's Questions (University of California Press, 2000), 1-17, 41-68.

6) Sample some of the interviews available on these WWW sites:

* Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/] Part of the Library of Congress's American Memory Project, containing more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.

* Voices from the Days of Slavery (audio recordings with former slaves and witnesses of slavery). http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/voices/uides

Assignment: In a succinct 3-page essay, utilizing the assigned readings (and any additional sources you might wish to cite), discuss the major obstacles oral historians face when interviewing across racial, ethnic, gender, psychological, or ideological divides (focus on one "divide"). Make sure to go beyond generalities and illustrate your points with specific examples and illustrations.

Tuesday, September 22: Ethical and Legal Issues in Oral and Video History

In this class, we'll examine the variety of ethical and legal issues and dilemmas oral and video historians confront on a regular and irregular basis.

Required Readings:

1) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp. 75-79; 215-221; 252-259. [Course Text].

2) Daphne Patai, "U.S. Academics and Third World Women: Is Ethical Research Possible?" from Sherna Gluck and Daphne Patai, eds., Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History, New York: Routledge, 1991. [Available locally]

3) Dan Bar-on, "Ethical issues in biographical interviews and analysis," In R. Josselson (Ed.), The narrative study of lives: Volume 4. Ethics and process in the narrative study of lives.(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage., 1996). [Available Locally]

4) Gerald Zahavi, "Passionate Commitments: Race, Sex, and Communism at Schenectady General Electric, 1932-1954." The Journal of American History, 83 (Sept. 1996). [Available locally].. As you read my article, think about what ethical issues may have arisen in the course of researching, writing, and publishing it.

5) Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd edition (AltaMira Press 2005), Chapter 5, "Legalities and Ethics." [Available Locally]

Resources & Recommended Readings:

1) IRB Investigator's Handbook. [SUNY IRB]

2) John A. Neuenschwander, Oral History and the Law (revised edition) Albuquerque, NM: Oral History Association, 2002.

3) "Should All Disciplines Be Subject to the Common Rule? Human Subjects of Social Science Research," Academe (May-June, 2002).

4) Michael Seadle, "Whose Rules? Intellectual Property, Culture, and Indigenous Communities," D-Lib Magazine (March 2002).

5) The Belmont Report. Office of the Secretary Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (April 18, 1979). http://ohrp.osophs.dhhs.gov/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.htm

Tuesday, September 29: Interviewing, I: Technical Issues ~ Digital Sound Recording and Recorders

Required Readings:

Processing and Transcribing Software [Available locally]

ON-LINE RESOURCE: Oral History Association Web Site: Guide to Technology: http://www.oralhistory.org/technology/

ON-LINE RESOURCES: Conservation On Line (CoOL) Sound Preservation On-Line Resouces (Stanford University): http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/bytopic/audio/

ON-LINE RESOURCES: Vermont Folklife Center Digital Recording and Recorder Guides ["Field Recording in the Digital Age" and "Digital Audio Field Recording Equipment Guide."] http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/archive/archive-fieldguides.html

Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp.54-57.

Audio-Technica Guide to Microphones.

RESOURCE DOCUMENTS: H2 Digital Recorder User's Guide.

ON-LINE RESOURCE: Transom.org Audio Tools Guide [transom.org/tools]

October 6, 2009: Interviewing, II ~ A Practical Guide

The following readings will help you understand all that is involved in conducting and processing an oral interview correctly.

Required Readings:

1) Southern Oral History Program Guidebook. Excellent "how to" manual. http://www.sohp.org/howto/guide/. Consider this a resource. Skim and re-visit as you need.

2) Look through the following manual (Oral History Interview Guidelines). You do not need to read the entire manual, but become aware of what it has to offer you and use relevant sections if you plan on engaging in "sensitive subject" oral history projects. The manual was produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's (USHMM), Department of Oral History. The 156 pp. manual "provides guidance on the many aspects of conducting an interview. Included are step-by-step suggestions for making initial contact with a potential interviewee, conducting research and preparing questions for the interview, and producing finding aids such as transcripts and summaries after the interview." To obtain an Acrobat Adobe PDF file version of the guide, go to: http://www.ushmm.org/archives/oralhist.pdf; you can also find a copy on the Blackboard site..

3) Tips For Interviewers [Source: Willa K. Baum, Oral History for the Local Historical Society] . [Available locally].

4) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp. 47-109; 155-187. [Course textbook].

5) Charles T. Morrissey, "The Two Sentence Format as an Interviewing Technique in Oral History Fieldwork," Oral History Review 15 (Spring 1987), 43-53.  [Available locally].

6) http://www.baylor.edu/Oral_History/ Institute for Oral History, Baylor University. See, in particular, the on-line workshop on interviewing: http://www.baylor.edu/Oral_History/index.php?id=23560.

7) Linda Shopes, "Oral History Project Handouts."

8) Tips for Effective Interviewing: Interview Questions.

9) Examples of indexes and tape logs.

PROJECT: You will be given a recording of an interview. Transcribe the first five pages (double spaced) and fully index it. Submit your transcript and index on line and be ready to discuss the problems you confronted in the course of accomplishing these two tasks.

Tueday, October 13: Interviewing, III: Analyzing Interviews

Required Readings:

Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd edition (AltaMira Press 2005), Chapter 10, "Analysis and Interpretation."

Interviews for Analysis and Evaluation [see Blackboard site for links to recordings].

Writing Assignment: Listen to any of the student interviews listed in the "Interviews for Analysis and Evaluation" file for this class on Blackboard (there are links to RealMedia and MP3 files there). Discuss its strengths and weaknesses in a short 3-4 page essay (specific references to content should include minutes and  seconds index references in parenthesis -- e.g. [12:43]. Include in your postings the following: What does each tell you about the interviewee? About the interviewer? What mistakes did you spot? What especially good practices do you notice and what made them good? Did the interviewer probe deeply enough -- or were the questions too superficial? What SHOULD he or she have done to improve the depth of the interview? How well were controversial issues handled (if they were at all)? What about the recording quality -- the technical aspects of the interview; was it poor, fair, good, exceptionally good, and why? How might the technical aspects have been improved?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009: Processing, Editing, and Publishing Oral History

Required Readings:

1) Michael Frisch, A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (SUNY Press, 1990), chapter 5 (Preparing Interview Transcripts for Documentary Publication: A Line-by-Line Illustration of the Editing Process").

2) Dennis Tedlock, "Learning to Listen: Oral history as Poetry," in Grele, ed., Envelopes of Sound, 107-125.

3) Selections from Kenneth L. Kann, Comrades and Chicken Ranchers: The Story of a California Jewish Community, (Cornell University Press, 1993), selection.

4) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp. 128-133.

5) Gerald Zahavi, "Negotiated Loyalty: Welfare Capitalism and the Shoeworkers of Endicott Johnson, 1920-1940," The Journal of American History 70 (Dec., 1983): 602-20.

6) Transcribing Style Guide. Institute for Oral History. Baylor University. http://www.baylor.edu/Oral_History/Styleguide.html.

PROJECT: Practice interview due. Conduct and record a short interview. Submit the audio either on a CD or through Backboard (as a 128 kbps MP3 file. Make sure the original interview is recorded uncompressed -- as a *.wav or *.aif file.

October 27, 2009: Case Studies, I (Montana Communism and Women in 'Men's Work')

Required Readings:

1) Gerald Zahavi, "Who's Going to Dance With Somebody Who Calls You a Mainstreeter': Communism, Culture and Community in Sheridan County, Montana, 1918-1934," Great Plains Quarterly, 16 (Fall 1996).

2) Jane LaTour, Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Working Women Working for Equality in New York City (Palgrave, 2008), selections.

3) ON-LINE INTERVIEWS: "Who's Going to Want to Dance with a Mainstreeter?" [See links to audio on Blackboard]

4) ON-LINE INTERVIEWS: From Sisters in the Brotherhoods (audio links) [See links to audio on Blackboard]

5) Sisters in the Brotherhood interview transcripts. [See filder with transcript links on Blackboard]

Tuesday, November 3: Case Studies, II ( Women and Work During World War II / Appalachian Cotton Mill Workers)

Required Readings:

Sherna Berger Gluck, Rosie the Riviter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change (Twayne, 1987). Introduction & chapter 7.

Jacqueline Hall, et al., "Cotton Mill People: Work, Community and Protest in the Textile South 1880-1940" American Historical Review, vol. 91 (April 1986). 

Jacqueline Hall, "Disorderly Women: Gender and Labor Militancy in the Appalachian South," Journal of American History, vol. 73 (September 1986).

ON-LINE INTERVIEWS: Virtual Oral /Aural History Project (UC Santa Barbara)  Several collections focusing on Labor History, Long Beach History and Women’s History, including a series of interviews that "focus on women during World War II and includes interviews with southern California aircraft workers (the 45 volume set of transcripts produced by the "Rosie the Riveter Revisited" project, 1979-1983) and women who served in the military during WWII.": http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/aa/academic_technology/voaha/

ON-LINE INTERVIEWS: LIKE A FAMILY Web site:  A Web site was created by Dr. James Leloudis and Dr. Kathryn Walbert to supplement the book Like a Family: The Making of a Souhern Cotton Mill World (1987). Includes several oral histories utilized in the book and in the two articles above: http://www.ibiblio.org/sohp/laf/

Tuesday, November 10 Video History, I ~ Video Interviewing

Required Readings:

1) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp. 134-154. [Course text]

2) Pamela M. Henson, Terri A. Schorzman, "Videohistory: Focusing on the American Past," The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Sep., 1991), pp. 618-627. [Available through the U-Albany Library]

3) Lynne S. Gross and Larry W. Ward, Electronic Moviemaking, 4th Edition (Wadsworth, 2000). Selections.

4) Terri A. Schorzman, ed., A Practical Introduction to Videohistory: The Smithsonian Institution and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Experiment (Krieger, 1993). Selections.

5) Jim Stinson, "The Art of Video Interviewing." Videomaker (July, 2000).

6) Kyle Cassidy, "Basic Training: Shooting an Interview." Videomaker (March, 2006).

7) Dr. Robert G. Nulph, "Light Source: Three-Point Lighting in the Real World."

8) "Audio for Video" (selections from Videomaker magazine)

9) ON-LINE RESOURCE: Rosebud: A Digital Resource for Film Studies An excellent site; a comprehensice glossary with hyperlinks to editing terms and techniques -- and many visual examples (from Gene Robinson and Mitchell Lifton): http://mith2.umd.edu/clients/mlifton/rosebud_old/Glossary/index.html

10) ON-LINE RESOURCE: Lowell Lighting Resource Center. "Learning to Light Better" tutorials. Excellent instructions on lighting for video/film. http://www.lowel.com/edu/

Tuesday, November 17: Videohistory, II ~ Film and Video Documentaries

Required Readings/Viewings:

1) Script for Which Way EJ? (Mauriello) and Rockwell Kent, part 1 (Lewis).

2) Charles Hardy III and Pamela Dean, "Oral History in Sound and Moving Image Documentaries" (from Oral History Handbook).Read section on film/video documentaries for this week and the section on audio/radio documentaries for next week.

3) Spike Lee interview on 4 Little Girls: http://www.industrycentral.net/director_interviews/SL01.HTM

4) Watch the excerpts from the following three films and ONE of the two full documentaries below. Pay attention to how interviews are integrated into and utilized in the films.

4 Little Girls (1998)
Beyond Barbed Wire (1997)
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)

The Weather Underground (2002)
The Day After Trinity (1981)

Tuesday, November 24: Oral History on Radio, in the Theater, and in Museums

Required Readings/Listening:

1) Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History, pp. 241-245.

2) Student radio documentary projects - examples. Available on Blackboard.

3) Examples of radio documentaries. Sample some of these to get a sense of the range.[available on Blackboard or through http://www.talkinghistory.org].

4) Chapter 20 ("Documentary and Feature Programmes") in Robert McLeish, Radio Production: A Manual for Broadcasters (Focal Press, 1999). [Available locally]

5) A. William Bluem, Documentary in American Television (New York, 1965), 60-72 ("Radio: The Forgotten Art"). On [Available locally]

6) Read scripts for segments 13 and 14 of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," available through the following link: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

7) Listen to and read script of David Isay's: "Sunshine Hotel." http://soundportraits.org/on-air/the_sunshine_hotel/

8) Marty Pottenger, "CWT#3: Making City Water Tunnel #3," High Performance (Spring 1997), pp.2-10.

9) Della Pollock, "Telling the Told; Performing Like a Family," Oral History Review 18/2 (Fall 1990): 1-36.

10) Selma Thomas, "Private Memory in a Public Space: Oral History and Museums," in Paul Hamilton and Linda Shopes, eds., Oral History and Public Memories (Temple, 2005).

Tuesday, December 1: Oral and Videohistory on the Web / Short presentations on final pojects/papers.

Required Readings:

1) Thomas Dublin and Melissa Doak, "Miner's Son, Miners' Photographer: The Life and Work of George Harvan," in The Journal for MultiMedia History 3 (2000).

2) Charles Hardy III and Alessandro Portelli, "Can Almost See the Lights of Home ~ A Field Trip to Harlan County, Kentucky," in The Journal for MultiMedia History 2 (1999).

3) Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. http://digital.library.unlv.edu/ntsohp/.

Final Papers and Projects are due on Tuesday, December 15.

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