CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES:Activity 2: Creating an Oral History
Creating an Oral History--Who Tells the Story?
Students will experience the complexity of piecing together an oral history and consider the role and responsibility of the historian as well as how to evaluate the "point of view" of those interviewed.
A. First six minutes of film
B. Excerpt length: 15 minutes. Begins approximately 2 hours from the start. In cue: "Zbyszek and I are in Israel." Out cue: "Seven belonged to the families from Bransk." (The entire program is filled with many examples of the challenges faced by both Romaniuk and Marzynski as they each try to piece together the story of their heritage.)
- View video segment A.
- Ask students to identify the purpose of the journey to Bransk. This section will acquaint students with the premise for the film and provide them with a context for doing an oral history. They should take notes so that they can record the key points made by the narrator, paying particular attention to the range and type of questions being presented.
- Elicit from students different ways that historical material can be accumulated. (Refer to Marzynski's use of video, Romaniuk's collection of artifacts and Kaplan's journal entries as ways to record information.)
- Ask students to do research for an oral history. As a class, choose or assign a significant historical period or an event in your community such as a building which no longer exists, the creation of a "downtown", election of a new mayor, etc.
- Pair students up to interview at least two people, recording their interviews with detailed notes, or by audio or video recordings. Each student should alternate between being the lead interviewer and recorder.
- Brainstorm some general interview questions. Students can add other questions specific to their interviews.
- After the interviews consider the following questions as a class:
- How did you choose the people to interview?
- Did any of the interviews result in conflicting information?
- How could you know what was the "truth"? Is there one true history?
- How did the memory of an individual affect the interview and the information you collected?
- What is your responsibility as you try to combine the information from the interviews and "tell the story"?
- Can you tell the story without making moral judgments?
- What affects your point of view? What might affect the point of view of the people you interviewed?
- Did you have a particular point of view before your interviews? Did it change?
- View video segment B.
- Discuss the following questions with the whole class:
- What is Romaniuk trying to accomplish by exploring Bransk's past history and researching the life and death of the Jews in that community?
- What is Marzynski trying to achieve by exploring, on film, the life of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of Bransk during the Holocaust and the people who live there today?
- What external and internal factors affect Romaniuk's and Marzynski's point of view?
- Can a participant in an event give an objective account of that event?
- What biases are displayed by the historians in the film?
- Divide the class in half. One group will represent Marzynski, the other Romaniuk. Each group should determine the point of view or perspective of history that each character represents and how the each person's perspective might have been an obstacle to telling an objective report of events.
- Representatives from each group should share their responses with the whole class. Discuss any differences of opinion. Have students compare their own role in preparing an oral history to the roles of Romaniuk and Marzynski. What challenges do they have in common? What challenges are different?
Each part can be accomplished in one class period if the research and interviewing for part one is completed as homework.
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