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As part of The Craft of Anthropology class, students are instructed to interact with the HARRC collection. Below are some of the recent submissions created by students:

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The Importance of Oral Histories Maria Isabel Paraan

During the fall semester of 2018, American University’s Anthropology graduate Craft Class conducted preliminary research in three church communities: Macedonia Baptist Church, Tobytown, and Scotland AME Zion Church. The product of last semester’s research was three oral histories: Mr. Harvey Mathews from Macedonia, Reverend Melvin Martin Jr. from Tobytown, and Miss Barbara Smith from Scotland.

Now, some may ask, ‘what exactly is an oral history?’ and that is a good question! An oral history is an extensively planned interview that typically lasts about an hour, sometimes longer. These histories document deeper stories and require a more personal connection between interviewer and interviewee. While the mentioned oral histories were conducted by students, we hope that community members will feel inspired to conduct their own oral histories with each other.

Another question that might pop up – ‘well, why are these oral histories important.’ Another wonderful question! As the name denotes, it is a history told orally. Not only that, but a transcription or summary of the history accompanies it and is usually kept in a library or archive. If someone were to expand the previous question (‘why is it important to the communities’) there is an answer for that as well. There tends to be a popular, overarching narrative that does not accurately represent the real story. There will be no university researchers coming for personal gain only or reporters misrepresenting the truth. There will only be a history that the community itself wishes to be heard.

An expanded answer to the previous reason is so that people’s histories can be brought out unto the world. Barbara Smith’s oral history is filled with personal stories from childhood to her time as a nurse. Reverend Martin’s history is filled with his passion to protect Tobytown from further harm. Mr. Matthew’s oral history begins with his childhood during a time of change and transitions. His story connects to his current plight of reclaiming the Moses cemetery from the Housing Opportunities Commission and the dynamics of the situation from his point of view.

These histories and personal moments would be and have been missed, or completely ignored. While researchers can play a role in supplying lift to these stories, it is not the researcher’s voice that should be heard in relaying these stories. It is not about giving a voice to the voiceless. Rather it is about featuring the voices that have been ignored or lost.

To aid with that goal, graduate students are holding a special event on February 17th. This event will be at Scotland AME Zion church involving the Humanities Truck. The Humanities Truck allows users to hold events in differing locations, such as conducting oral histories and displaying a traveling museum. Funnily enough, those are the exact uses the anthropology graduate students have in mind. The current intention is to provide an oral history workshop and teach community members how to conduct oral histories so that they can tell the stories they want to tell. Moreover, it is to show community members what research and efforts are being made during this collaboration.

About the Course

The Craft of Anthropology I (6) provides broad intradisciplinary theoretical and methodical training to prepare students to become anthropologists. Students explore central anthropological themes through classic and contemporary texts in sociocultural anthropology, archeology, bioanthropology, and linguistic anthropology, and conduct research using diverse methodologies.

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