KSU researchers spotlight importance of oral histories in the classroom

KENNESAW, Ga. | Dec 16, 2020

How historical events are presented to students influences their understanding and overall grasp of historical concepts, according to Kennesaw State University researchers James Newberry and Adina Langer.

Recording and compiling oral histories, video clips and interviews of people who experienced major historical events firsthand allows for students to make a human connection and “meet history face-to-face,” explained Langer and Newberry.

“We want to know what people went through because no two experiences were the same,” said Newberry, curator of outreach and special projects for KSU’s Museums, Archives and Rare Books. “Oral histories give us additional meaning that students and researchers might not necessarily get from a newspaper article or a journal written during the time period.”

Since 2013, the research team has recorded more than 70 interviews with soldiers who served in World War II, Holocaust survivors and workers on the home front during the war. Those insights, compiled into archived videos, transcripts and multimedia formats, are available for teachers of students ranging from fifth grade through college to supplement their education on these topics.

Langer, curator of KSU’s Museum of History and Holocaust Education, utilizes footage from these interviews in order to develop interactive exhibits, including panels that depict people on a human scale, multimedia elements to convey stories and quotes, and even physical spaces that evoke living rooms of the WWII era that include replica period pieces.

To Langer, the opportunity to include interviews that allow regular people to share their historical backgrounds offers students proof that history is alive and has meaning today.

“We always let our interviewees sum up why students should learn about this history and how the importance of their story fits into bigger stories,” Langer said. “We have a responsibility now that many people who lived through such huge events are getting older, and being able to record and transcribe these interviews allows for our sources to share their stories with wider audiences and impact future generations.”

To hear more about Langer and Newberry’s research, listen to the “Thought Provoking” podcast that highlights research and expertise from KSU’s Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.