Some Key Concepts
Oral history, storytelling, eye witness, primary source, secondary source, facts, opinions, truth, prompted, open-ended
People are the original sources of and creators of histories
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”Elie Wiesel
“Storytelling is traditional. That was like a classroom where Indian children learned their history. It was done in a circle, in winter months, and that’s how you passed on the culture.”Romayne Watt, Seneca
How do we first learn about history? Can there be any one history that is true for everyone? How can we build a more complete understanding of the past by considering multiple versions? How does telling stories in community build culture? How does our position in time and place shape our understanding of history?
- Family Stories are Vitally Important for Kids. Stories of Hardship, and Triumph (familyhistoryproducts.com)
Project Suggestions and Ways to Practice
- Talk with someone about an historic event you both lived through. Trade stories. “Where were you when….?”
- Ask someone who is significantly older than you about a historical era they lived through before you were born.
- Invite questions from children about what life was like for you before they were born.
- Reminisce at a family gathering with open-ended prompt. Ask each person to tell a story that begins with the phrase “Remember when?” Let the conversation develop without putting further boundaries on it.
- Use any initial prompt to start stories flowing in a group setting. “When did you come to Greenfield?” “What’s a significant historical event you’ve lived through?” Let the conversation flow without putting boundaries on it.
- Ask the oldest person in the family to tell the oldest story they remember learning from their parents/grandparents/guardians.
- Ask the youngest person in the family to tell a story about something the older people don’t know much about.
- Conduct an oral history interview of someone. Focus on drawing out and listening to their stories rather than trading stories.
- Convene a story circle with a focus on a particular topic. Ask each person to respond in turn to the topic at hand.Convene a story circle in which participants share their family stories that they’ve learned from their parent/grandparent/guardian generation(s).
Use open-ended questions to allow conversations to develop spontaneously as stories are shared. Use prompts if you want to keep to a particular topic.
As you hear people’s stories, consider which ones they tell that they actually were eyewitnesses to (primary source) and which ones they heard or learned about from other sources (secondary source).
Remember not to argue with or dispute anyone’s stories, but establish a guideline for respectful listening to everyone’s points of view.