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Why Oral Histories?

Oral histories are defined as "the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events." (Google definition) In other words, oral histories are one of the ways historians can do their research. Beyond personal narratives, oral histories provide historians with the feeling and meaning of historical events in a way that the written word does not. 

Oral histories are tied to the ancient traditions of storytelling in various cultures. Yet, European historians disregarded the methodology as too subjective in the 19th century when the discipline was being developed. Historians in the academy did not return to the methodology of oral history until the mid-20th century, and today, the Oral History Association represents the growing number of scholars who specialize in this way of telling history.

Research Methods

These interviews were conducted between April-August 2020 as part of an upper-level history course at the College. Students in the course chose a Heartland Alliance employee to interview. The main goal of these interviews was to capture “hot history,” history as it is happening. How were people working and living under COVID-19? The pandemic upended everyone’s lives in different ways, and these oral histories highlight some of these changes.  

The original questions used during April 2020 are listed below: 

Questions Part 1 

  1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself: your name, age, occupation, some background information, etc? 
  2. When and how did you learn about COVID-19? What did you initially think about the virus? 
  3. What is it like to live and work under COVID-19? 
  4. How has your routine altered, if at all? 
  5. Has the concept of time changed for you at all? If so, how? 
  6. How are you managing mentally and emotionally at this time? 
  7. Does living through this historical moment remind you of any past historical moments you may have lived through? If so, how? 
  8. What has this moment taught you about connection/human connection?  
  9. How are you staying connected to your loved ones? 
  10. What do you think life beyond COVID-19 will look like? 

Questions Part 2 

Based on the first round of interviews, the questions evolved before the second round of interviews. Additionally, a question was added after June 2020, due to the international protests calling for justice after George Floyd’s murder. 

  1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself: your name, age, occupation, some background information, etc.? 
  2. When and how did you learn about COVID-19? What did you initially think about the virus? 
  3. What is it like to live and work under COVID-19? 
  4. How has the pandemic affected the branch of Heartland you are affiliated with/work for? 
  5. Considering all that we just talked about, how are you managing mentally and emotionally at this time? 
  6. How has COVID-19 impacted the day-to-day lives of the communities/people you work with? 
  7. How has your personal routine altered, if at all? 
  8. What has this moment taught you about connection/human connection?  
  9. How are you staying connected to your loved ones? 
  10. In addition to COVID, we are also living through a time of major unrest around white supremacy and police brutality. How have the recent protests have impacted your life and work? 
  11. Does living through this historical moment remind you of any past historical events/moments you have experienced? If so, how? 
  12. Comparison to 1968, Rodney King, AIDS epidemic, living through 9/11, BLM protests in early 2010s?  
  13. What do you think life beyond COVID-19/this moment will look like?