Tell Me a Story: Students and Community Members Collaborate on Oral History Projects
Plumbing and electricity are not services that Fannie Dauterman has ever taken for granted. Raised on her grandmother’s farm during the Depression, she milked cows, canned vegetables and made do with hand-me-downs from a classmate whose family was financially more secure than hers.
“I had a very hard younger life. But many people were in that situation, so I didn’t feel out of it. We knew people had money, but we didn’t feel less than they were,” the retired music teacher told two University of Findlay students recently during a video-recorded interview in her apartment at Birchaven Village.
Dauterman’s story will be included in oral history projects that students are completing this semester for a History 101 course being taught by history professor Elizabeth Buchanan, Ph.D.
Separately, an ongoing effort to collect stories from Hancock County farmers has received a $13,669 grant from Ohio Humanities, a state-based partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. UF and the Hancock Historical Museum are collaborating on the combined oral histories and digital media project, which is being directed by Christine Denecker, Ph.D., English professor and English Department chair.
Both ventures reflect the University’s commitment to preserving personal accounts of their lives and the region’s history, and to experiential learning that unites students and community members for compelling dialogue and greater perspective.
Buchanan wanted to reach beyond the textbooks and classroom to offer her students a more memorable, useful and meaningful educational experience. She chose to assign her students oral history projects as a living history exercise. The focus is women in the workforce between 1940 and 1955. Birchaven residents who worked during that time and were willing to be interviewed on camera were paired with students. These interviews were set up with the assistance of Birchaven Activities Director Ruthann Hahn. The assignment also calls for newspaper and magazine research from the time period to determine how working women were treated during that time period, which jobs were available to them, and the messages that were being conveyed about those employees and their careers.
Along with meeting typical academic requirements, the projects are teaching students interviewing, critical thinking and analysis techniques. Buchanan said her goal is to make history come alive for her students.
Buchanan said she sought guidance from Denecker and Megan Adams, Ph.D., assistant communication professor, regarding how to best collect the retired women’s oral histories.
For more than a year, Denecker and Adams, along with several of their students, have been working on the project, “Ohio Farm Stories: Capturing and Reflecting on Hancock County’s Agricultural History,” which seeks to increase awareness of and appreciation for Hancock County’s agricultural history. The grant will pay for the intermediate step of expanding the number of farm family oral histories available to the public, and creating a well-defined plan for wide dissemination of collected oral histories via an online interactive archive modeled from “Hollow” and “Our Marathon.” Adams worked with the “Hollow” crew as a videographer while writing her dissertation. That story can be accessed by clicking here.
The Ohio Humanities funding will also finance a free public forum, planned for fall semester 2017, that will highlight agriculture-based themes within the county and invite the community to reflect on the proposed interactive archive.
Denecker said recording stories is important because it preserves historical accounts, allows individuals to relay information in their own ways, and it connects people by building a sense of community and pride.
“That’s what we’re striving for in capturing the oral histories of Hancock County farmers. We want to preserve and honor the past through the words of those who helped shape the agricultural and economic landscape of this area,” said Denecker.
Personally, Denecker said the effort has enriched her own life, and can do so for others too. “The stories of hard work, of family, of hope – they remind me of the values that grounded my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. These stories remind me to respect all ways of knowing, and doing, and being. These stories are not easy, or glamorous, or romantic, but they’re real, and we can learn about our past and ourselves by listening,” she said.
Ohio Humanities’ generous support of the Ohio Farm Stories of Hancock County project helps further its own mission of inspiring people to learn more about history and its contemporary impact. The organization’s aim is to create and sustain vibrant communities by helping Ohioans interpret the past, imagine the future and define individual values.