Length: 5-7 pages (1 page questions, 4-6 pages report/analysis)
Must be uploaded as .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf
For this paper, you will be engaging in a short oral history project involving data collection, analysis and presentation. Each student will choose a particular event in African-American history (or American history that is relevant to the African-American experience) between 1920 and 2020 that is particularly memorable.
Choosing an obscure topic can often result in a more fascinating, and paradoxically, easier-to-write paper. But the pandemic and the George Floyd protests are current, massively important events for this course, and students are encouraged to use those as topics if they wish.
a) Define the event (or series of events, or period)
b) Find individuals living during the period who remember the event
c) Determine what questions should be asked of those individuals about the event
d) Pool the data and questions about the event collected and present it in a short analytical report using outside sources.
You should interview no fewer than two people about the event, and you should attempt to have your subjects be as diverse as possible. I will leave the choice of subjects up to you.
Interviews need not be in person, and can be done over email, phone, etc. Follow-up interviews may be necessary to clarify certain points raised in the initial interview, and which come up during creation of the paper.
The questions need not be complex, but each interviewer must have a historical knowledge of the event such that they know how to talk about the event, they know how to listen to the subject concerning the event, and perhaps know how to respond with follow-up questions that may not be on the group’s prepared list of questions.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When we talk about African-American history, it is important to understand that every American’s history is inextricably bound up with “African-American” history. Every event in American history is, in some way, also an event in African-American history. So, you do not need to limit yourself to events that are of primary importance to African-American history, such as events in the Civil Rights movement or the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. You can choose, for instance, the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency in 1980, or even the first Iraq War. However, you should choose your interview subjects and relate your questions to the event as the event may pertain to African-American history. For instance, the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency in 1980 had a major effect on American social policy towards African Americans. How did the African-American community react to the election? Who was the community’s generally preferred candidate and why? etc. These are all potential questions. Of course, every war impacts the African-American experience as well.
Older interview subjects are particularly preferred, i.e. grandparents, because their knowledge is more in danger of being lost. But you can ask your next-door neighbor, your relative living overseas, or your sister. Just get two good subjects.
The older the event, and the more the information is in danger of being lost, the better.
Examples of recent events:
Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (or Malcolm X, JFK, RFK, etc.)
Los Angeles Riots of 1992
O.J. Simpson verdict/aftermath
Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings
Emmett Till murder and trial
Appointment of Thurgood Marshall to Supreme Court
Montgomery Bus Boycott
March on Washington, 1963
Any major Presidential election
The First or Second Gulf Wars
War in Afghanistan
Jackie Robinson breaking the “color line” in baseball
The George Floyd Protests
There are several other events one can choose from but remember that smaller events might not be remembered by everyone. However, the more obscure events can generate more original research, and interesting results.
Your paper should consist of three main components. The first two need only be in list format. You should include in your report
1) a list of the prepared questions asked, (1 page)
2) a list of those interviewed, and most importantly (1/4 page)
3) a report analyzing the answers to these questions and any follow-up questions. (3-4 pages)
Your paper should also use outside sources (secondary sources are fine) to describe the event itself and to help analyze the particular perspective your subjects bring to the event. For instance, if you interview your mother about the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, and she worked in an office at the time, you might want to find out how working women viewed King at the time. This can help shed light on your mother’s reaction, and on the reaction of middle-class working women in the 1960s in general. This is only one example among an infinite number of examples.
Most of all, have fun. Interviewing your elders (this does not necessarily refer to your relations) and showing an interest in their personal history can be a very rewarding experience.