National Park Service Offers Oral History Skills Workshop in Hopedale
Jan 26, 2018 06:00AM ● Published by Marjorie Turner Hollman
National Park ranger Josh Bell speaks about his grandfather, pictured on the screen, who served during WWII in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor)
On a cold January evening almost two dozen area residents gathered at the Little Red Shop in Hopedale to hear Joshua Bell, a National Park Service ranger, talk about oral histories, both the process of conducting an interview and what to do with the interview once it’s completed.
Bell is based half-time with the Blackstone Valley National Historic Park and half-time in Alaska. You might think this would make for a tough commute. But the wonders of the internet, Skype, and that old instrument the telephone allow Bell to remain in the Blackstone Valley while he researches and interviews veterans about their military experiences. Bell records veterans’ oral histories, both for the Veterans’ History Project at the Library of Congress and for the Aleutians World War II National Historic Area. Bell’s grandfather was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII.
The workshop was one in a continuing series of “skills workshops” offered by the Blackstone Valley National Historic Park. For more information about these workshops and other volunteer opportunities and events, visit https://blackstoneheritagecorridor.org/.
Audience members inquired about the best questions to ask. Bell offered handouts reprinted from the Veterans History Project website, https://www.loc.gov/vets/, which not only offers questions to ask, but also provides guidelines for how to approach an interview and how to submit interviews to the Library of Congress.
Of course, many attendees were interested in learning how to apply these skills to saving history in their own families, and Bell had information that was applicable to interviewing non-veterans. He pointed audience members to their cell phones, suggesting that they could use a recording option on their phones to record conversations with loved ones. He warned about paying attention to one’s surroundings and being aware of extra noises like ticking clocks, buzzing refrigerators, doorbells or other sources of noise that could compromise the recording.
Bell also described what to do once an interview is finished, including transcribing each interview and making the material accessible for researchers and others who would want to access the stories in the future. He completed his presentation by encouraging those who attended not to simply record an interview and then put it in a drawer. “Find a place or places to share it,” he urged.
Local veterans in Bellingham may be familiar with this oral history process since a number of Bellingham’s local veterans’ oral history interviews are stored at the Library of Congress, and are also available to be listened to at Bellingham’s town website. The Bellingham Cultural Council and ABMI Cable 8 have supported this effort, and other local Bellingham residents have assisted in making these interviews publicly available. To listen to these local veterans’ oral histories, visit http://www.bellinghamma.org/pages/bellinghamma_veteran/Vets%20Oral%20History.