By Lori Wysong
Elm Staff Writer
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Oral History Program at the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and with that milestone comes a lot of changes.
The program began when Michael Buckley, known for his radio interview series “Voices of the Chesapeake,” was asked by Washington College to be the program manager at the Starr Center.
When two students heard the radio show, which, according to Buckley, “gives people a sense of place about where they live,” they wanted to get involved in collecting oral history.
“We started with just those two students, and then I think we had four, and then we built up to six, and when we had six, I think we started the summer program, which is a four to six-week workshop that we’re kicking off right now,” he said.
These summer internships are part of the StoryQuest National Homefront Project, which started several years after Buckley’s arrival. Interns will focus specifically on collecting the interviews of civilians on the Homefront during World War II.
Starr Center Oral Historian Erica Fugger believes these memories are especially important to collect, since civilian contributions “weren’t really celebrated, weren’t really known, and they completely shaped American history and culture.”
To expand on the HomeFront Project, Fugger has initiated a national partnership with several other institutions. The partnership, which involves libraries, commemorative organizations, and other universities, seeks to collect and preserve these memories. “We have the responsibility to make sure that that information is accessible over time,” Fugger said.
To facilitate this process, the StoryQuest Oral History website is getting revamped. It will include a public interview upload portal and an oral history toolkit with best practices for conducting interviews.
Sophomore Abigail Burnett, a Starr Center intern, is excited about the partnership.
“It’s great that we’re going to get to speak to a broader population and learn about regional differences, especially on the Homefront,” she said.
Buckley believes that these interviews will help students in addition to preserving historical memory.
“They can walk out the door with a really solid set of skills, both the interpersonal skills and the organizational skills that have to do with the archiving,” he said.
Moving forward, archiving will be especially important to StoryQuest so that interviews can be easily accessed and preserved. It is one of the skills that Buckley and Fugger consider as most critical to the future of the program.
Fugger believes that skills learned through oral history are applicable to practically any major, job, or life experience.
“We’re really hoping that the summer program attracts a whole new group of students,” she said.
“You become a great listener, and there’s no better skill,” Buckley said.
Those students interested in applying for the summer internship program, or getting involved in Oral History should contact Starr Center Deputy Director Pat Nugent at firstname.lastname@example.org.