Though it may be a relatively new offering,“OSU, Women and Oral History: An Exploration of 150 Years” has already left its mark on Oregon State University. Introduced as an honors colloquium course last winter term, students enrolled in the class explore the theory and practice of oral history through the lens of women at Oregon State, and each completes a recorded oral history interview. The course was designed with non-history majors in mind, and all students receive the necessary instruction in understanding historical perspectives and using historical texts.
“We have both been at OSU for a long time, have worked with a lot of archival collections and have conducted a lot of oral histories,” say course co-instructors Chris Petersen and Tiah Edmunson-Morton. “When we reflected on our work and the archival collections in SCARC [Special Collections and Archives Research Center], we saw an imbalance in the representation of women. As practicing oral historians, we have an opportunity to even that representation simply by talking with more women and promoting projects that focus on women’s voices.”
Chris Petersen, a co-instructor of the course, is himself an Oregon State alumnus: he graduated in 1999 with B.S. degrees in history and sociology and was a member of the first cohort of the Oregon State University Honors College. Since then, he has pursued work at the OSU Libraries as an archivist and oral historian and is currently a senior faculty research assistant with SCARC.
Tiah Edmunson-Morton is the other half of the team designing and teaching “OSU, Women and Oral History.” She received her B.A. and M.A. in English literature from Miami University and a Masters degree in library and information science from San Jose State University before coming to Oregon State in 2006. She coordinates the instruction, outreach, exhibits and internship programs for SCARC; teaches term-long and single session classes; and supervises undergraduate and graduate student capstone projects. As the curator of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives, she acquires and processes new collections, conducts oral histories and coordinates outreach activities.
“OSU, Women and Oral History” was recently highlighted in a case study written by Petersen and Edmunson-Morton for the Society of American Archivists. In it, the co-instructors detail the intent and pedagogy of the course, expanding specifically on growth in students and students’ reflections on their learning, along with the story of the creation of the course and the instructors’ plans for future sections.
During the first-ever term of the class, the co-instructors met with representatives of the OSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women and received funding for an intern position to assist with a physical exhibit and accompanying website entitled “Women’s Work, Women’s Words: Spaces of Community, Change, Tradition, Resistance at Oregon State University,” both created and managed by SCARC. A new website entitled “Voices of OSU Women” was launched specifically for the interviews created by students in “OSU, Women and Oral History” and has now expanded to host a multitude of interviews with OSU-related women, ranging from the OSU dining operations manager to a recent ASOSU president. These resources will continue to grow, highlighting the impact of women on Oregon State in the past, present and future.
“OSU, Women and Oral History” was a well-received course, and each student strongly agreed that the course should be taught again at the honors level. Students also gave feedback, later published in the Society of American Archivists case study, detailing their growth as a result of the course; one student wrote, “Overall, the lessons [they] gained from this class and [their] interview were invaluable.” Another said, “We often view history as having one or maybe two points of view; oral histories can provide other views we did not even consider.”
“For students who wish to develop a deeper understanding of their school, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about OSU’s evolution, particularly as it concerns roles, expectations and milestones related to women,” the co-instructors say. “At the end of the term, most said they had come into the class not knowing much about the history of OSU, and throughout the class, they had absorbed a lot. Learning about their school shifted the way they thought about the campus, the classes and the people who had been here before.”
In their personal reflections on the first term of “OSU, Women and Oral History,” Edmunson-Morton and Petersen recognize the value that the students’ work carries. “The outcome of that work – an oral history interview with an OSU-affiliated woman – will be added to the archival record and made freely available online. So in this sense, one’s term project lives on well beyond the conclusion of the class. Many of our students last year expressed feelings of satisfaction in knowing this to be true.”