Immigrants & Oral History

Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) and the Immigrant and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) presented a workshop at Monmouth University on September 15th, 2017 that left the attendees ready to dig into their own projects.

Professor Melissa Ziobro of Monmouth University hosted Anne Rush of OHMAR and the University of Maryland College Park, who led the workshop along with Nicholas Molnar of IEHS and the Community College of Philadelphia. The workshop offered a primer on oral history generally and on working with diverse immigrant and ethnic groups, specifically.

Attendees of the workshop ranged from graduate students to seasoned librarians, historians, and archivists from Virginia to Boston and near everywhere in-between. The day was filled with discussion on best practices on everything from how to get the best recording, to budgeting your projects, to how to best incorporate this practice into a college level course, and more.

Immigrants have a unique and special history; no language or education barrier should ever keep their stories from being heard! The workshop looked at things such as the pros and cons of showing accents and dialects in transcripts, and when/why you might want to clean up the language a bit. Some immigrants have endured trauma, and advice was given on how to best handle situations that could potentially arise.

By the end of the day the discussion had turned to the legal ramifications of working with immigrants. Not only is it vital to protect the work that both the interviewer and interviewee are building, but it is also important to protect the interviewee, too. The discussion included perhaps using a pseudonym, or not publishing the records for the general public for a set period of time.

Overall, I would encourage professionals or students who are curious about oral history or immigration history to find a workshop by OHMAR and/or IEHS. This particular workshop was certainly beneficial for those just starting out in oral history or those with a seasoned background.

Margaret Smith is in the History MA program at Monmouth in West Long Branch, New Jersey. Margaret previously received her undergraduate degrees of History, Secondary Education, a minor in Art History, and an endorsement in English as a Second Language from Monmouth University in 2015. Margaret has also worked as a middle school Social Studies teacher in Camden, New Jersey for the past two years.