Texas Wesleyan University Course Syllabus

Spring 2018


Course: HIS 4320-01  Memory, Story Telling and Oral History

Course Meeting Time: Thursday 7-9:30

                        Location: EJW B26

Office: PMC 244

Instructor: Chris Ohan

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 9-12 and 2-3; Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-5:30,

or by appointment

Phone: 817-531-4913

E-mail: cohan@txwes.edu

Webpage: www.historymuse.net


Oral sources tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing and what they now think they did.  As oral historians, we must do three jobs at the same time.  We must do the historian's job of trying to understand what happened, the anthropologist's job of understanding how people tell their stories and then move back and forth between these two levels.
--Allesandro Portelli


[I]rrelevancies and discrepancies must not be denied, but these will never be understood if we take oral sources merely as factual statements. --Luisa Passerini


Memory installs remembrance within the sacred… [it] is absolute, while history can only conceive the relative….The task of remembering makes everyone his own historian. –Pierre Nora


Course Description:  A seminar that examines critical current issues via the method of oral history.  In this course you will be participating in two oral history projects; one involving a thematic history related war and the other, a life history. 


Learning Outcomes: Upon successful completion of this class students will be able to conduct background research on the personal life experiences of individuals.  They will be able to develop and conduct oral history interviews with contemporary peers to capture and understand a past event, life, or experience.  Students will be able to compare, contrast, and summarize what you’ve learned across generations.  They will acquire the skill associated with the personal interview and methods of life history/storytelling.  They will be able to assess the importance of perspectives of the past regardless of actual veracity and, finally, students will learn to use basic qualitative analysis software for interview analysis.


Learning Objectives                                                                                   Program Goals


Objective 1: Students will gain an understanding of the past relative to the experiences of their narrators.

1. Develop a general knowledge of human history, including a basic chronology of both western and non-western societies covering time periods from the ancient to the modern.

Objective 2: Student ought to be able to use historical comparison as an analytic tool; recognize the different interpretations of the experiences of their narrators.

2.  Understand Historical Interpretation and Historiography.


Objective 3: 1. Students will be able to conduct background research on the personal life experiences of individuals. 

2. Students will be able to develop and conduct oral history interviews with contemporary peers to capture and understand a past event, life, or experience. 

3. Students will be able to compare, contrast, and summarize what you’ve learned across generations. 

4. Students will acquire the skill associated with the personal interview and methods of life history/storytelling. 

5. Students will be able to assess the importance of perspectives of the past regardless of actual veracity.

6. Students will learn to use basic qualitative analysis software for interview analysis.

3. Learn the various skills associated with the craft of history. These skills include:

a. Reading Comprehension and Cognitive Skills

b. Historical Thinking Skills

c. Research Skills

d. Written Communication Skills

e. Oral Communication Skills

f. Computer Literacy

Objective 4: This course will quip students with interviewing and research skills connected to professional research, teaching and/or graduate study.

4. Students completing a major in the Department of History will be prepared to enter graduate programs in History, teach History in secondary or middle schools, or enter other careers open to graduates with degrees in the Liberal Arts.


Required Materials:

Yow, Recording Oral History. AltaMira, 2005.

Additional Text:

Margaret Ahnert, The Knock at the Door


Instructional Methods/Class Format:  All classes will consist of discussion of course material; primarily the Yow and then the Sheikh texts but also the interviews once they begin.  You must be present to discuss and I assume that you will complete the assigned readings for each week.  It is also assumed that you will attend all classes.


Class Schedule: See below.


Evaluation and Grading:   Since this is a seminar, there are no exams.  Your grade will be based on your written material (essentially 5 assignments) as well as your in-class participation and presentations.  On February 15 the Ahnert review is due; March 1 the first oral transcript and analysis; and May 10 the second transcript and analysis are due.


This is a rough breakdown of grading for the course:  Ahnert Review 15%; Oral History I 20%, Analysis 15%, Oral History II 25%, Analysis 15%, Participation in a UC Day roundtable discussion (18 April) 10%. Letter grade equivalent for this class: A (90-99), B (80-89), C (70-79), D (60-69), F (59 and below)


Class Participation:  This is NOT a lecture class.  At this point in your academic career you should be able to engage the material and actively and intelligently participate in class discussions.  Participation in class discussions will make the difference if your final grade is borderline.


University College Day roundtable discussion.  You are responsible for participating in a UC Day roundtable discussion on 18 April drawing on the information/analysis from the first oral history you conduct.  Discussions topics/script will be decided by class consensus.


Writing:  Writing for this course should employ standard academic formatting—double spaced, 12-point Times font, 1 inch margins all around—with citations following Chicago style.  If you need help with this see the guides on the links page of the class website, the Wesleyan library or the instructor.  Correct use of source information and citations is assumed on the college level.  Failure to cite or format according to one of the styles listed will result in a lower grade.  See Grading Guidelines on the class webpage for specific grading criteria regarding written work. 


Late Submissions:  Please note that work submitted after the specific time that it’s due will be penalized at the rate of one letter grade per day.  No work which is more than 4 days late will be accepted.  Please do not waste time with excuses; just get assignments turned in.


Attendance is mandatory.  Since we meet only once each week, you should consider yourself in dire circumstances if you miss more than one scheduled class meeting.  The last day to drop is Tuesday, 17 April.  If you stop attending class and do not withdraw, expect to fail.


Texas Wesleyan University Policies:


·   Students should read the current Texas Wesleyan University Catalog and Student Handbook to become familiar with University policies.


·   Cheating, plagiarism (submitting another person’s material as one’s own), or completing assignments for another person who will receive academic credit are impermissible. This includes the use of unauthorized books, notebooks, or other sources in order to secure or give help during an examination, the unauthorized copying of examinations, assignments, reports, or term papers, or the presentation of unacknowledged material as if it were the student’s own work.  Disciplinary action may be taken beyond the academic discipline administered by the course instructor. Course exams may not be printed out. Any person possessing a hardcopy of a course exam will be in breach of copyright and may be held liable.]


·   Texas Wesleyan University adheres to a disability policy which is in keeping with relevant federal law. The University will provide appropriate accommodation as determined by the Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Michael Ellison. Students must notify instructors of any permanent or temporary disabilities and must provide documentation regarding those disabilities prior to the granting of an accommodation. For assistance, students should consult with Dr. Ellison at mellison@txwes.edu or (817) 531-7565.


·   Course syllabi are intended to provide students with basic information concerning the course. The syllabus can be viewed as a 'blueprint' for the course; changes in the syllabus can be made and students will be informed of any substantive changes concerning examinations, the grading or attendance policies and changes in project assignments.


·   Any course taken at Texas Wesleyan University and repeated for a grade must be repeated at Texas Wesleyan University. Any course taken at another university may be repeated at Texas Wesleyan, and the most recent grade on the course will be counted. When a course is repeated, the grade point average will be computed using the most recent grade achieved.


·   As noted in the catalog under the Unified Discrimination and Harassment Policy, Texas Wesleyan University is committed to providing an environment free of all forms of prohibited discrimination and sexual harassment.  If you have experienced any such discrimination or harassment, including gender- or sex-based forms, know that help and support are available from the following resources:

o Complete online incident report: StART Incident Report Form

o Contact Campus Conduct Hotline (24 hours a day): (866) 943-5787

o Campus security (24 hours a day): (817) 531-4911

o Dean of Students: deanofstudents@txwes.edu OR (817) 531-4872

o Please be aware that all Texas Wesleyan University employees, other than designated confidential resources (i.e., Community Counseling Center) are required to report credible evidence of prohibited discrimination or harassment to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, or to one of the Title IX Assistant Coordinators.  If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the Community Counseling Center at (817) 531-4859 to schedule an appointment.


Academic Integrity:


Familiarize yourself with Wesleyan’s Student Code of Conduct.  Academics are not only devoted to learning, research, and the advancement of knowledge, but also to the development of ethically sensitive and responsible persons. By accepting membership in this class, you are joining a community characterized by free expression, free inquiry, honesty, respect for others, and participation in constructive change.  All rights and responsibilities exercised within this academic environment shall be compatible with these principles. 


Academic Dishonesty is a breach of the Student Code of Conduct.  Dishonesty includes:

  1. Plagiarism, representing the work of another as one's own work;
  2. Preparing work for another that is to be used as that person's own work;
  3. Cheating by any method or means;
  4. Knowingly and willfully falsifying or manufacturing scientific or educational data and representing the same to be the result of scientific or scholarly experiment or research;
  5. Knowingly furnishing false information to a university official relative to academic matters;
  6. Soliciting, aiding, abetting, concealing, or attempting conduct in violation of this code.


Academic Dishonesty will not be tolerated in this course. Any offense will result in an F in the class (not simply on the assignment) and be referred to the appropriate academic officials for adjudication. If you have any questions regarding this subject please see me.  For a detailed description and further clarification, please see the link for “Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty” on my website, the 2017-2019 Wesleyan Catalog (p. 84-86), or the Student Handbook.




My Goal in this class is that you actively participate in the process of preparing (researching) for oral history interviews, transcribe and use (analyze) the information gained.  In essence, you will be creating tangible primary sources and then engaging those sources to understand, critically evaluate and, in some cases, reconstruct certain aspects of regional history.  The oral histories gathered will eventually be placed in the Wesleyan library.  There is, therefore, an intellectual as well as physical product for the course.


Please consider the classroom an open forum for discussion—of anything related to the themes and topics of the course.  (Of course, any argument—whether spoken or written—must be supported.  If you don’t already know it, an unsubstantiated opinion is mere gibberish.)  While I (or other students) may challenge beliefs/perspectives, realize that the purpose is not to change them.  That said, an open/tolerant attitude is essential in this class.  Since we will be dealing with issues to which you may have a connection or interest, there will be differences of opinion.  If you choose to be intolerant with narrators and/or interrupt class discussions, I reserve the right to take over an interview and/or ask you to leave the classroom.  I will protect the integrity of the learning environment for those of us who want to learn. 


Book Review Format (please consult the book review rubric: https://lat.taskstream.com/rubricExternal/awcwcscwcyc2cqct)


1.      5-6 pages typewritten, double-spaced.  Title page, if used, does NOT count.  Observe the normal rules of writing such as standard one-inch margins, page numbering, etc. 

2.      Full bibliographic citation on the title page or at the top of the first page.  (Consult an MLA or Chicago style guide if you’ve forgotten how to do this.  Do NOT make up your own form.)

3.      Brief introduction to the topic or subject of the book.  Why is this topic or subject important to the period of history being covered?

4.      Summarize the author’s thesis (argument) and main points concisely but fully.  (What do you think the author is trying to accomplish by writing the book?)

5.      Briefly say something regarding the author’s qualifications.

6.      Critique the book.  (What you’re doing is analogous to what happens in a courtroom. Consider yourself the judge and the author a lawyer who has presented an argument/case.  It’s up to you, having read his/her argument/case to decide whether or not her claims have validity.)  Based on your answer to #4 do you find his/her arguments and conclusions convincing?  How does s/he do in terms of accomplishing his purpose for writing?  Do not walk fences or resort to elementary tactics such as pleading ignorance.  (This should be about one-half of your paper.)

(6a. If the book is a work of literature, you’ll still consider what the author is trying to accomplish, but you’ll need to think about what the work says about the time period or place in which it’s set, the characters, the environment, etc.  For example, you’d look at it the same way an historian would look at More’s Utopia or possibly Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Those works are good literature but say a lot about the time period in which they were written.)

7.      While a review does not usually include the readers own opinion, you may provide a brief personal evaluation of no more than one paragraph.  Be sure to explain and support your opinion carefully and coherently.  At this point in your academic career, you ought to have an informed opinion.  “Informed” suggests that you’re offering specific evidence as to how and why you agree or disagree.

8.      This is not a research paper, so formal footnoting is not necessary.  If you do quote or draw on information that is not your own, simply use a parenthetical reference according to MLA or Turabian/Chicago style. 

9.      Papers which are turned in after the time they are due will be penalized one letter grade for each day.  No papers which are more than four days late will be accepted.  If you or someone close to you is looking like they’re coming down with the latest disease or that they might need emergency surgery, turn it in early.  If you want mercy, pray.


Tentative Schedule

Jan 18

Course Introduction

What are we going to do and why are we going to do it?



Jan 25

A discussion about the issues and a theoretical foundation

Readings: Nora, Between Memory and History; Portelli, The Peculiarities of Oral History; Sacks, “Ethics and Politics in Oral History Research



Feb 1

Our method: oral history

Readings: Yow chs. 1-2; Ahnert, The Knock at the Door



Feb 8

Preparation for the first project: formulating the interview guide

Readings: Yow chs. 3-4, 6



Feb 15

No formal class meeting.  Students will be meeting separately with the instructor and conducting interviews this week. 

Ahnert Review due by 7pm (Blackboard)



Feb 22

Analysis and Interpretation: What did we learn?

Readings: Yow ch. 10



March 1

Interviewing for a life history

Interviewing Ordinary People – Who can we interview and what can we ask?

Finalizing narrators, interview guides and goals

Interview 1 transcript and analysis due

Readings:  Sample from life of "RCS"



March 22

Interviews. No formal class meeting.  Students will be meeting separately with the instructor.


April 5

Interviews. No formal class meeting.  Students will be meeting separately with the instructor.



April 12

Individual reports begin

Preparation for University College Day Presentation



April 18

University College Day: Presentation



April 19

Individual reports conclude



April 26, May 3

Analysis and Interpretation



May 10

Interview 2 transcript and analysis due