Students to collect oral histories from Af/Am alumni
November 8, 2019
This weekend, as alumni from the past five decades gather on campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Africana Studies program, the Russwurm African American Center and the African American Society, four students—Aisha Rickford ’20, Nate DeMoranville ’20, Marcus Williams ’21 and Marina Henke ’19—will be seeking to document their stories.
The four students have been preparing all semester to conduct interviews over the next three days for an oral history project. They will spend 11 hours on Friday and Saturday and half the day Sunday talking with alumni who register via email or in person about their academic and social experiences at Bowdoin and beyond.
“We’re just hoping that the people who are registered to attend this weekend will be willing and interested in sharing their stories of Bowdoin with our current students in order to create an archive,” said Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English and Director of the Africana Studies Program, Tess Chakkalakal, who has been supervising the project. “We’re making history at the same time as we’re acknowledging the past.”
Chakkalakal, who calls the project a “collaborative independent study,” meets with the students weekly to discuss their progress, but the students also collaborate with one another outside of these discussions.
“It’s taken a commitment on the part of these students,” Chakkalakal said. “I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve been reaching out to people to get them to sign up for these interviews.”
Chakkalakal selected each of the students based on strengths she observed when they were in her classes. Henke has experience conducting an oral history project in St. Louis; Rickford has practice crafting narratives through her involvement in the Stowe Writers Project; Williams works with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and DeMoranville has an interest in photography.
DeMoranville will be curating a visual photo exhibit of the individuals the students interview that will be put on display in time for Black History Month in February.
“The Bowdoin community will be able to listen to snippets of [the interviews] and look at the pictures and see the development of a real historical narrative out of these interviews,” Chakkalakal said.
After conducting the interviews, the students will spend the next few weeks transcribing the recordings. The transcripts will be preserved in the George J. Mitchell Special Collections and Archives in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.
Chakkalakal explained that library resources have been essential to the project; the students will be using library equipment to record their interviews, and they have also been meeting with Digital Archivist Meghan Doyle to learn about creating oral history projects.
The students will be stationed next to the Af/Am/50 registration table to solicit interviewees, and they will be conducting the interviews in Adams Hall. They currently have 10 alumni signed up via email, and they hope to increase that number to 50 with in-person signups by the end of the weekend.
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