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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2017-18

MALS 191 Preserving the Past: Oral History in Theory and Practice

“Preserving the Past” will explore the theoretical implications, practical applications, and literary dimensions of oral history.  Through reading and discussion, students will be exposed to a variety of oral histories and evaluate the uses of individual and/or collective memory as a means of documenting, understanding, and appreciating the past. Oral history will be examined as a literary genre with consideration of how the oral historian becomes a creative writer whose work relies almost wholly on the voices of those interviewed. The special demands of oral biography will be considered as well.

Issues to be addressed include: the place of oral history—by nature personal and subjective—in the larger historical framework; changes demanded by a shift in medium as the oral historian transfers taped commentary to print; the role of the oral historian/oral biographer as re-caster and re-arranger of memory; evolving recording technologies and the impact of the medium on oral history’s “message” and “massage.”

Selected oral histories (see Required Reading) will be contrasted with and compared to traditional historical accounts of similar events, as well as to one another as regards purpose, methodology, style, and literary effectiveness. Additionally students can consult historical works (see Recommended Reading) for insights into the ways in which oral history has been included. The roles and responsibilities of the practitioner as interviewer, archivist, historian, biographer, and artist will be examined and critiqued.        

The Course  agenda will hone students skills in interviewing, listening, transcribing, editing and organizing – moving from the spoken word to a final polished oral history work.    

Each student will produce an oral history project comprised of 6-12 voices on a cultural, institutional, local, familial, personal, or event-based topic. Ongoing guidance will be available through one-on-one meetings  as the student goes through the process of selecting a theme and individuals to interview, preparing for and conducting interviews, transcribing and editing tapes, and fashioning from them the final work. Through discussing their projects in the Workshop component of the course, students will have the opportunity to network and benefit from feedback.


  • Timely and thorough readings of assigned works to be reflected in informed participation in class discussions. (Books must be on hand for the sessions they are to be discussed.)
  • Participation in a Collateral Readers’ Panel based on in-depth reading/viewing of a portion of a traditional historical work/documentary that deals with one or more of the subjects treated in an assigned oral history. Submission of a satisfactory Oral History Project.

Grades will be based on the quality of work in all of the above. Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory.


Students must meet with either professor a minimum of four times during scheduled Friday hours for one-on-one consultations.


Harvey Frommer; Myrna Katz Frommer