An Oral History Collective

Author: Joe (Page 1 of 2)

Final Reflection

As I have hinted at previously in class, I deeply enjoy conducting interviews. They are an opportunity to hear another perspective at length, to give a voice to someone whose thoughts you are invested in hearing. They’re a chance to have an invigorating conversation in which you do as little of the talking as possible—a joy for an introvert like me.

Needless to say, then, conducting the oral history interviews was by far my favorite aspect of this course. To be able to listen intently to the stories, experiences, hopes, and ideas of two individuals the likes of whom I had never encountered before was simply awe-inspiring (and paid off in a practical way, too, when one of them invited me over for Easter dinner afterwards). I was better able to hone my skills as an interviewer in this process as I continually tested how to ask the right questions at the right times, and to otherwise simply allow the one speaking to do just that—speak.

Writing the narrative pages was my next most appreciated activity. While writing always involves some degree of interpretation, no matter how skilled the author, I nonetheless enjoyed the opportunity to, as objectively as possible, listen to the conversations I had over again and to select what seemed to me the most salient points—the highs and lows, the hopes, hindrances, and helps that my new friends experience in their lives in the United States. The “three H’s” around which we organized our narratives provided a fun storytelling tool while also permitting us to represent a broad range of what was said, from negative to positive, on a broad range of topics, from education and work to community building and the political situation of the DRC.

When it came to building the website, a few challenges arose that necessitated deviating from the original version of the contract. While we originally hoped to include an ArcGIS map, we quickly had to change from this course, as we learned that this is in fact not the same thing as a StoryMap, which is the format we had been hoping for. We were able to switch to this format, which Megan utilized with great success. Megan also compiled a phenomenal Google Slides presentation on the process behind the Diversity Visa.

I also used a Google Slides presentation to give a briefing on the relevant political and historical background of the DRC which is important for the viewer to keep in mind when listening to our population’s interviews. While we originally hoped to use VideoPad for this information, I quickly found that I had considerable difficulty working that software, due to the fact that I’ve not received formal instruction in it. Luckily, Professors Donaldson and Bettencourt talked us through this in our conference, where we decided that Google Slides would be the way to go.

In the end, I’m very glad for the local connections I built while working on this project. What I learned above all is that it takes intentional connections for a community to fully come together and integrate in solidarity, and in learning this, I was at the start of doing just that.

Website reviews

Las Voces de Las Americas

Off to a good start! It’d be cool to find ways to make the information interactive, once you have it up. Sound bites from interviews interspersed throughout the site would be useful, since the word voces/voices is so central to your theme—make sure to integrate those conversations as much as possible!

Latino Migration in the Central Savannah River Area

I liked the idea of an ArcGIS map to get to know the area; however, when I clicked on different points, it merely said “Point,” and no background info was given. It would be helpful to fix this. More pages with more info about the people and the area may be helpful as well. What are important aspects for us to know?

Website reflection

We’ve made forays into developing StoryMaps to represent the Congo—this has largely been done by Megan. For my part, I’ve begun reading up on the DRC via the BBC’s extremely useful country profile coverage and asked a professor who spent time living there for her resources. I hope to compile the essentials into a short introductory video to be posted on the website. These will give viewers a variety of ways to become familiar with the background information of our community.

The main thing I hope for the website is visuals on the Congolese community. Two sources are available for this: photos from parts of their lives around here (such as English class or the grocery store) as well as their own photos. These, I feel, will give our materials a much greater depth than they would otherwise have.

Project Update 3/23

Due to strong cultural perceptions of gender, Megan and I have divided interviewees by sex and will interview them accordingly: She will interview the women, and I the men. I have thus far secured two interviews and am approaching a third.

We made good headway insofar as making professional connections at a recent Community Coordination event on March 6. Megan is a regular part of this group; however, for me, this was my first introduction to Richard, one of the first Congolese to move to the area who speaks advanced English and is active with integration efforts.

I worked in his group that night, focusing on developing a series of orientations for Congolese on topics such as bills, local recreation, banking, and many other vital pieces of knowledge. Afterwards, I introduced myself and explained our project. He graciously agreed to be interviewed, and I will be meeting him on Tuesday to talk. I’m particularly keen on learning from him, given the length of time he’s spent here and the depth to which he is involved in the community.

I’ve also spoken with Jérôme, another man with good English who works with Farmland. Originally acquainted over Facebook thanks to Megan, we met at his house recently for a pre-interview chat and will talk again this Wednesday. Megan and I also plan to speak with another man after church on Sunday and set up a time with him.

The main hurdle we presently face is lack of background knowledge on the Congo (more so for me than Megan). For this reason, I have reached out to a professor who’s done a considerable amount of work in this community requesting basic resources to give myself a crash-course on the DRC.

Over this next week, we will also begin preliminary testing of the media we’re most keen on; we’re hoping to construct a basic map of local Congolese languages on Story Map. The Congo is home to hundreds of indigenous languages, so this map will focus on a handful of the more widely spoken native tongues. The goal is not necessarily to have completed said map in the next week, but to make decent headway in testing whether this is a viable feature.

Project Update—Website Choices

The story of the Congolese in Kirksville is rather complex, involving both their journey to the states and then their migration to a sliver of the Northeast Missouri region. For this reason, we’ve decided that various forms of digital media will be best used in explaining the local situation.

While the final form of the website will likely change and adapt as we consider what we learn in the interview process, we’ve brainstormed several ideas in this area. We’ve selected the theme “evolve” for its sleek homepage with easy access to pages to be filled with background information.

In order to first explain the basics of the local Congolese’s lives, we want to utilize StoryMap to make a literal track of their journey so that users unfamiliar with the Congo and/or Northeast MO can visualize the scenario. Noted on this map will be places of geopolitical importance in the DRC as well as hotspots of local Congolese culture in NEMO, such as their grocery stores and the locations of English classes. A condensed version of this map may be offered in the form of a timeline created in (you guessed it) Timeline.

This map will only be able to contain so much information, however. For this reason, we desire to use VideoPad to create informational clips explaining things such as the Diversity Visa and further info on the push factors in the DRC. Using public domain, photojournalistic images and textual layover, we will condense our research into small videos such as those seen on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Within the WordPress tools themselves (our site can be found here), we will also use MetaSlider and PDF embedder in order to most easily present relevant documents and photos.

We stress that this is a preliminary list of digital tools; however, this is what we desire the final content to contain, no matter what media we use to get there.

Research Update 2/24—Draft of Interview Questions

A Google Document with our drafted interview questions may be accessed via password here.

A PDF of our drafted questions as of 2/24/18 may be accessed here. (PDF has been included for the inevitable time when the Google Doc will be updated, outdated, or deleted, and thus no longer accurately reflect our writing and research at this stage.)

My research partner Megan Kraus’ personal blog may be accessed here.

First Research Update—Campus Archives Visit

Campus’ Special Collections sit high above the surrounding academic buildings in a corner of the third floor atop the library. The sterile, warmly lit main room is lined with tables, an encased Gutenberg Bible, large computer monitors, and a select handful of rare books. These few books that sit out in the open here have been deemed sturdy enough for the harsh environment outside vaulted areas, and the single line of bookshelves they rest on runs beneath a lofted area accessed by a white spiral staircase. High windows look out on the general sciences building, Student Union, and a panorama of the northeast Missouri sky.

We had scheduled yesterday’s appointment with Amanda at the beginning of the semester, and as per usual, she was well-prepared with materials for us. The bulk of her findings fell into two main categories: previous oral histories, and local history.

A stack of perhaps a couple dozen or more CD’s and their accompanying transcripts formed the bulk of an oral history project carried out by interdisciplinary classes almost exactly a decade ago. Focusing on the Hispanic population in nearby Milan (pronounced MY-lən in local parlance), the data, which occupies two boxes, is still unprocessed. Milan is now also home to a number of Congolese, so these boxes will hopefully, upon further inspection, yield an already-existing migration narrative into which a new population has recently arrived.

In addition to the Milan project, Amanda also walked us through the Collections’ sources on local history; among these sources, the most impressive was a catalog of several decades worth of issues of the Kirksville Daily Express, compiled by a former president of the University. While compiling an historical narrative on local migration would be a whole project in and of itself with these sources, glancing at them was at worst intriguing, and at best assured us of easily accessible texts should they become necessary.

We agreed to work with the Congolese population some weeks ago. Having now glanced through both the Milan project as well as other oral histories for class, the following few questions (among others) have come to mind:

  1. What was life like in the home country?
  2. When did this people begin to arrive in Kirksville? What various factors compelled them to leave their country and come here (both the US and Kirksville specifically)?
  3. What impressions did they have of this place before they moved here? How was this different from the reality?
  4. What is a hope they have for themselves/their families’ futures?
  5. How can the local community help them achieve these goals?

Map of Refugee Populations in Europe

Attached here is a map in which I’ve attempted to create a decent picture of where refugees have settled throughout major countries in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis in 2015. This graphic aims to create a basic overview and concrete vision of how this phenomenon has unfolded in various places. Clicking on the pin of each country brings up a brief summary of the nation’s interactions with displaced persons.

I say “decent picture” due to the complicated nature of tracking numbers of refugees, who tend to move from country to country quickly, oftentimes without documentation; additional difficulty arises from the fact that certain data sets are from different years. All numbers are taken from the CIA World Factbook except where otherwise noted, and most come from 2016. Some countries with particularly interesting or outstanding situations, such as Malta and the Vatican, receive a special note.

A larger version of this map can be found at this link.


Welcome, or: A Personal Introduction to Immigration

On this blog, I’ll be keeping a personal track record of the research and interviews Megan and I conduct throughout the semester. Other sections of the site will have more of an academic/professional orientation; these posts, however, will take on a more personal tone.

I found out about the Voices course offering (and about COPLAC itself) through my faculty advisor, who is incidentally our dean of Interdisciplinary Studies. She recommended it to me after I told her about my summer job as a journalist, which at times touched on migrancy coverage; I had also worked the previous semester as an office assistant for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Rome. Thinking it would serve as a good résumé builder, we began to fill out the forms.

However, my interest in and, more importantly, concern for issues of immigration and refugees extends to before these jobs. Months before I started with JRS, I had paid more and more attention to the growing migrant crisis. The plight of many throughout the world plucked at my heartstrings: What must it be like to suddenly have everything, your home, your daily life, your family, even at times your children, ripped away from you by the powers that be or forces above your control? These questions sound cliche, but the issue lodged in my heart, in my mind, and in my prayers.

The new administration brought a heightened awareness of this crisis. Announcements of President Trump’s executive orders on a border wall and refugee vetting came as I sat in the Newark airport on my way to Italy; shortly after landing, I contacted my representatives, and my opposition to the measures was shortly thereafter hardened as the US Catholic bishops roundly condemned the orders; Pope Francis had already famously made the refugee crisis and immigration themes of his pontificate, which for Americans came into particular light during his visit to Ciudad Juarez at the US-Mexico border.

With this, weeks of pondering the migrant crisis, a pondering which had seemingly arisen in me of a sudden from nowhere, came to a head with amateur political activism as I called and wrote my representatives from Rome and tracked progress both in the White House as well as Congress. My time with JRS brought me an opportunity, to some degree, to let this percolate into my everyday life; however, due to my limited hours, a multi-layered language barrier, and an office staff who were almost as new as I was, I did not receive an opportunity to interact personally with any of the many migrants whom JRS helps in Rome out of our offices by the Chiesa del Gesù. The following summer, the brief of immigration panels I provided was even done remotely.

The Voices course, then, came as an opportunity for a long-delayed change of perspective. Rather than continuing to simply sit in some sort of journalistic or bureaucratic ivory tower as this issue continued to bump into my life, this presented me a tangible possibility of interacting personally with groups of people who had chosen to leave their homeland. Kirksville has been a good home, and migrancy has woven itself in and out of my life over the past year. A course covering immigration would allow me to turn my attention from headlines on a screen to a human person in front of me, and furthermore allow me to provide new resources to the community that so generously welcomes us undergrads. Voices, then, personally fulfills its name: I finally get to hear the voices of those I’ve read so much about.

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