An Oral History Collective

Author: Morrison (Page 1 of 2)


I honestly cannot believe that it is time to reflect upon my progression through the course Voices of Migration. Like so many college experiences prior, time seems to fly faster than I can manage. Nevertheless, listed below, please find my reflection on my project’s content, oral histories, and website design.

Regarding the topic of course (and the project), studying migration was a fascinating experience. In an academic manner, I learned many new aspects about migration. Whether it be describing the global challenges migrants face, explaining what it means to be a refugee, or discussing  the effects of transnational citizens on economic development, I feel that I have developed a robust vocabulary. Therefore, in an in-class sense, I gained new and valuable knowledge about an increasingly important international subject.

As for conducting my oral histories, I gained valuable understandings. Conducting an oral history interview is challenging. One must be flexible enough to go with the flow, but also stay structured enough in order to discuss the desired topic(s). I struggled with my first interview. The speaking style of my interviewee was rather short and concise; therefore, I had a difficult time thinking quickly on my feet to keep the conversation flowing. On the other hand, my second interviewee was rather talkative, moving from point to point on his own accord. I had an easier time directing his oration because I became more of a facilitator, rather than as the driving force. So, I now have a newfound respect for the work oral historians do.

In addition, I really appreciated conducting the oral histories for its personal research style. The research process was so alive, communicative, and emotional. While I love researching subjects which interest me, looking through history monographs and navigating through databases can become monotonous. An oral history, on the other hand, is an alive artifact. It needs both the interviewer and interviewee; without one, there is no final product. Working through the interview is an engaging exploration for both parties involved. This type of research was exciting and fun; I hope I can conduct more oral histories for future studies.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed creating/designing my own website. I had the autonomy and control to make a product and then actually publish it for the entire world to see. I was able to learn new skills regarding website design, digital tools, and up-keeping my own personal blog. These are adaptable skills with tangible results. I am very pleased with the knowledge gained through working with new technology.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge my appreciation for the inter-humanity/ interdisciplinary nature of this COPLACDigital course. I was engaged in history, sociology, technological studies, and even art design. These opportunities are reflective of the changing landscape of education and future employment opportunities. Learning how to think independently , work collaboratively, and live critically is the liberal arts philosophy.  Voices of Migration, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulated everything that I love about a liberal arts education.

Thank you to my professors, classmates, COPLAC associates, and MCLA faculty who made this wonderful opportunity available to me.  I truly believe this was one of the most educational, challenging, and rewarding academic experiences I have even been a part of.



Reviewing Classmates’ Projects

My reviews for the ‘Latino Migration in the Central Savannah River Area’ and ‘Merging Cultures: The Congo in Kirksville’ may be found below. Each of my reviews is based on the final website project rubric, outlined in the Voices of Migration project guidelines. If a project did not meet anyone of the rubric categories, I left that category out of my review.

Review of Latino Migration in the Central Savannah River Area

Context: I think the ‘About the Project’ page is excellent. It provides context for users to base their impressions on the who, what, where, why, and how of the project. I love the digital mapping tool for your page on the CSRA; however, time permitting, perhaps you could insert a little more information about the area (population demographics, main sources of economic revenue, etc.). Another suggestion would be to add in a context page exploring why there are migrants in the CSRA in the first place (economic factors, historic migration, etc.). Finally, I think there could be a more effective integration of the digital tools with the rest of the context. Currently, I feel that the digital tools are a little disjointed but  a slight rearrangement would be a quick solution.

Oral Histories: From the narrative about Angelica, it seems that the oral history interview was a success! Perhaps it was not posted yet, but I could not find the actual oral history digital file to listen to.

Narratives: I think the narrative on Angelica’s story is fantastic. Her story is told in a compelling, interesting, and thought-provoking manner.  Excellent work!

Website Design: I think the website design is effective and easy to navigate. Further, I think the heading photograph sets the tone of the project well.

Language and Editing: I think the language/writing style used in the project website is appropriate and effective for conveying the desired tone.

Overall, once the missing pieces are put into place, you will have created a thoughtful, well-developed, and complete final project. I look forward to seeing your finished  work!

Review of Merging Cultures: The Congo in Kirksville

Context: I think the ‘About This Project’ tab provides sufficient background information on the project. This information can be used to give users a foundation on which to base their experiences while navigating through the site. I love the context given on the actual geographical locations both in the Congo and in Missouri. This really inserts Kirksville into the project and gives it an added layer aside from the oral histories. Finally, the digital tools are well integrated into the  site and make your project more engaging. Wonderful context!

Oral Histories: I think the oral histories are well conducted. I believe they cover a wide range of discussion topics and points of view. Nice interviews!

Narratives: I am sure this is already being worked on, but there needs to be an added narrative for each oral history. Based on the work already produced and the context obtained, I have no doubt that the narratives will be rich, complete, and effective at delivering the desired tone.

Digital Recordings: To me, you have conducted solid interviews. Nice work.

Resources and Documentation: Present and accounted for.

Website Design: I think you have designed an easy to navigate and effective website. From the digital tools to the organization, I was never once confused while searching through the site. Further, I think the photo gallery is an excellent addition to the project. It adds a personal and visual dimension that I believe other projects are missing.

Language and Editing: Solid language and editing. I found the word choice to be effective at delivering the desired tone.

Overall, I think you have crafted an excellent website with some well-developed content. Once you add in some oral history narratives, you will have a complete and polished final project. Great work!

WordPress Progression

This blog post is dedicated to providing an update on the project website. My partner and I are using WordPress as a medium for our migration narrative. While still in the process of completion, we are conveying this narrative by the actual uploaded text,  the ‘physical’ layout of the website, and specifically chosen digital tools.

While the actual text is still being work-shopped, the website’s layout is nearing completion/finalization. The largest contribution of the website design to conveying the narrative is through its user-friendliness. I want the website to be so easy to navigate that it does not hinder the message from the interviewees. Through dropdown menus, the content is neatly organized and, with the menu and sidebar, information can be located through multiple means of navigation. However, I am not finished with the website design and my plans for improvement can be found in the last paragraph of this post.

Regarding the digital tools, both the ARC GIS Story Map and JS Timeline are being utilized. Ryan is working with the story map digital tool, so I will leave that update for him to explain. I intend to use the timeline tool for a visualization of the Greek migration context. Like most aspects of the project, manipulating this digital tool is taking longer than expected. I am confident that I will have it completed and uploaded on the website by the middle of this week. It is my hope that this particular digital tool will further convey our narrative by providing another mode of representation for the audience’s engagement.

Without surprise, the WordPress website still needs improvement. For one, the actual digital tools need to be completed and uploaded onto the website. In addition, after receiving feedback during last Thursday’s class, I have another rounds of edits to make the site more logical and user-friendly (rearranging some categories, adding different heading titles and a Greek community resources page, etc.). Thank you for checking in and I will be back next week with more updates!








Project Update (3/25)

Another week, another blog post! While the ball has begun to roll, Ryan and I are still waiting on our contacts to get back to us so we can schedule interviews. However, we have accomplished a significant amount since coming back from school break. Please keep reading to learn more about the project’s progress, challenges, digital tools, and weekly schedule.

As for progress on our oral histories, Ryan had a meeting with the Berkshire Immigrant Center, where he was presented with a number of actual contacts in which to interview. He is currently waiting to hear back from those recommended contacts. Myself, on the other hand, am still waiting to hear from St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church. I emailed the church office last Tuesday and decided, if I do not hear anything back by this Tuesday, I will reach out to the priest of the church (whose contact information is listed directly underneath the office’s on the website). I hope I do not come across as desperate or overly-persistent, but I believe this is too good of a contact to give up on. Fingers crossed that, for next week’s blog post, I will have more to report on the oral history aspect of the project.

Regarding the website’s progression, we now have picked a theme, preliminary color scheme, set of widgets, heading picture, and organizational style. In other words, the layout of the site has been changed and updated. Ryan and I plan to continue developing the website this week. Speaking of which, I am pleased with the collaborative nature of the project. I believe Ryan and I are doing a nice job communicating with each other, while at the same time taking responsibility for what we each need to get done individually. Earlier this evening, we meet for our weekly project meeting and discussed project logistics, milestones, and upcoming goals.

The most direct and obvious challenge is working with our contacts, who have been taking their time in getting back to us. This is particularly worrisome because, if they refuse our interview offer, we have even less time to find new people/organizations to reach out to. It is comforting to know that our group is not the only one with these problems; however, I grow more stressed each day we hear nothing. That being said, I am confident we will have at least one interview completed by the end of the week!

Ryan and I have not started working with any digital tools, yet. Nonetheless, we plan to work with a number of digital tools by the end of the week. I will focus on using Timeline JS to help visualize the historical context of Greek migration to the United States. Ryan will work with the ARC GIS Story Map technology to convey the imagery of migration from Greece to the United States. We are both excited to get our hands on these digital tools and to prepare them for use on the final project website.

Here is my weekly schedule:

By Tuesday:

  • Reach out to St. George’s Church, again
  • Update the ‘About Me’ section in the project website
  • Download Audacity and setup a Soundcloud account
  • Keep up with class assignments

By Thursday:

  • Finish creating the Timeline JS digital tool/add it to the Greek Migration Context page on the website
  • Add information to the ‘About Me’ page
  • Hopefully, schedule/conduct at least one interview
  • Keep up with class assignments




Interview Process Reflection (3/18)

Regarding the interview process, I do not have very much to report on yet. Being out of state for spring break made working on the project and communicating with my partner a challenge. In all honesty, I am behind where I want to be on the progress of the project. However, I believe recognizing this is important and, as a result, I have begun to plan out this upcoming week in order to catch up to the milestones outlined in the project contract. Listed below, please find my plan for the upcoming week so, by the following Sunday, I will have a more thorough interview progress report.

  • By Tuesday March 20th
    • Begin to make changes to the final project website in accordance with plans outlined in my last blog post (theme, color scheme)
    • Reach out to my Greek migration contact
    • Finish mediating comments to the revised project contract
    • Keep up with class assignments
  • By Thursday March 22nd
    • Schedule the first oral history interview for either the end of this week or the beginning of next week
    • Schedule a weekly progress report meeting with my partner
    • Keep up with class assignments

I believe by following this newly developed schedule, I can catch up to where I need to be. I apologize for not having a more complete interview process reflection; however, I intend to use my classmates’ reports as a way to prepare for my first interview. I look forward to reading and commenting on their blogs latter this week!

Project Development Update (3/10)

As of this weekend, my project contract has been edited and revised. While a few more edits may be needed, the link in my last blog post has been updated to upload the new, revised contract. I believe the document provides a solid project outline, both for matters of scheduling and for thematic direction. In completing the contract, I now have a better sense of what needs to get done and when, the specific research questions being asked, and an agreed upon collaborative plan. All in all, the project contract provides a great starting point, whereas it can be revisited and reviewed throughout the duration of the project. Speaking for myself, I am glad this completed assignment was undertaken with care and consideration.

As a disclaimer, no ‘physical’ changes have been made to the final project website as of yet. However, decisions have been made regarding the website including WordPress theme and color scheme. The final project will be thematically conveyed by utilizing the Hemingway model. While certainly subject to change, I believe the Hemingway theme is elegant in its simplicity and is easy to navigate. I do not want the final project to be too visually stimulating, thus taking away from the content of the site. Further, user-friendliness is a must; I do not want to frustrate visitors by making the website impossible to maneuver through.

Regarding color scheme, I tentatively say that the final project will incorporate blue and white as a representation of the Greek flag. However, I would like the color scheme to be dependent upon the narrative delivered by the interviewees during the oral histories. If the interviews are serious, dark in nature, display raw pain, etc., then I do not want to create a website with obnoxiously bright and warm colors. Yet, I do not want to definitively declare that the color scheme will be cool. Either way, much like with the WordPress theme, I do not want the site’s color scheme to take away from the content of the oral histories; the colors should (and will) enhance the project site.

Now that the the project contract is complete and a website direction has been decided upon, further progress is ready to be made with the oral histories and digital tools.




A Draft of Interview Questions

Listed below, please find a link to a Google Doc with my interview questions.

Draft of Interview Questions

My partner, Ryan Psutka (click here for a link to his course blog), and I have chosen to interview the Greek community in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The bolded questions in the Google Doc are general thematic outlines to get the narrator talking. If the conversation needs any guidance, the questions listed in the letter format are suggestions to help prompt the narrator for specifics. Of course, one cannot prepare/preplan the entire oral history dialogue; it must be a fluid process in which the direction of the interview is controlled equally by the interviewer and the interviewee. I am prepared to have these questions edited, so that progress with the projects can continue!

Beginning to Seek Out Available Resources

For this assignment, my partner and I met with two MCLA reference librarians to ask questions about migrant communities in the area and resources available for our research. As a disclaimer, MCLA does not employ a campus archivist; instead, the reference librarians take upon the responsibilities of managing primary source documents and helping students prepare for research.

Through speaking with the librarians, my partner and I learned about many migrant communities in North Adams and the Berkshires in general. We were told about historically strong Italian migration into North Adams, whereas the children and grandchildren of the migrants keep alive an Italian-American support organization.

Referring to Pittsfield (south of North Adams), we discussed vibrant Jewish and Greek communities. Historically, Jewish migrants owned many Pittsfield businesses (I am unclear on the histories/present conditions of those businesses) and remain connected through synagogues in the area. Similarly, Greek migration into Pittsfield has helped solidify a strong community, strengthened by church organizations and annual festivals. In addition, we were told the Berkshires region is suffering from an aging population and is encouraging more migration into the area. Perhaps this aspect could be included into our overall final project.

As for resources, the reference librarians gave us many different outlets to explore. For community knowledge and primary source documentation , the North Adams Public Library, the Berkshire Athenaeum, and the North Adams Historical Society were recommended to us. Specifically for their business acumen, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce was mentioned, as well. In addition, we discussed the Berkshire Immigration Center and different places of worship as organizations pertaining specifically to immigration/community support. Lastly, for updates on current migration news, the Berkshire Eagle Daily Newspaper was suggested.

The final part of this blog post is dedicated to the brainstorming of potential interview questions for our oral history project. While the following questions are created specifically for the Jewish migrant community, my partner and I have not yet decided which community we intend to focus on for our final project. However, due to my own ethnic background and family history, I am interested in learning about the Jewish migrant community’s experiences in Pittsfield. As a side note, I have not conducted any research so far; therefore, these questions are hypothetical, academic exercises in creating well-formed interview questions, and represent my general curiosity.

  1. For the first-generation of Jewish migrants, what was the primary impetus for relocation? Was it related to World War Two and persecution/European anti-Semitism? Or, was the migration mainly focused on economic opportunities? Perhaps for a different reason altogether?
  2. What job opportunities were available for Jewish migrants directly after migration? Were American companies hiring or did the migrants create their own businesses? Was there some combination of the two?
  3. How has religion connected/strengthened the community of first-generation migrants? Have religious organizations helped foster relationships between the second and third-generations?

Experimenting with Digital Tools

For my second post, I will explain my experience creating an Arc GIS Story Map. I used this digital tool to help demonstrate why migration matters, as well as my current state of preparedness regarding the oral history project.

If anyone is curious to view the short presentation I created, please find the link here: My Arc GIS Story Map. Viewing the digital tool might add in some context to the following reflection.

First and foremost, I found the final presentation to be an interesting blend of mapping technology, web images, and textual information. In addition to visual audience captivation, I enjoy how the internet user must manually move the presentation from slide to slide. I find that this helps to engage the audience member throughout the duration of the digital story (don’t worry, mine is not very long). Likewise, while my digital map is presented in a standard format, there are many different thematic styles in which to choose from. All of these technological aspects work to help create an engaging and fascinating presentation.

However, I found the website to be slightly unfriendly to the map creator. Perhaps this is due to my own lack of digital tool experience, but I found the site to be clunky and unintuitive. Simple edits (i.e. changing the presentation theme, saving work, and adding in text pop-ups) were difficult to navigate on the site. While this is my first time dealing with this technology, I felt that the time spend working with the tool did not equate to the quality level of the finished project.

Overall, I think this digital tool would certainly enhance the oral history project. It combines a visually interesting webpage with mandatory user participation. While perhaps there are more exciting styles than the standard format, the digital story map gives internet users a geographical understanding on which to base their learning. If one were to use this technology, I would recommend a thorough tutorial in order to get past the insecurities/frustrations of using a new tool for the first time. All in all, an Arc GIS Story Map, embedded into the oral history web-based project, would help the creators in their narrative storytelling.

If any other COPLAC student used this tool for the assignment, please let me know! I am curious to hear about your experience using the Arc GIS Story Map.

To conclude, while detailed in my story map presentation, I utilized information from Khalid Koser’s International Migration: A Very Short Introduction, as well as labeled for reuse images from Wikipedia Commons. All other information can be attributed to my own knowledge relating to MCLA, North Adams, and Pittsfield.

Thank you for reading! Until next time.







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