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History 355
Oral History:
War & American Society
(Fall 2015)

Class Meets: Tuesdays 5:00-8:40 pm
Room: Darwin 31
Instructor: Steve Estes
Office Hours: M/W 9:45-10:30; T: 1:30-3:00
Office: Stevenson 2070D or 707.664.2424

This course will use oral history interviews to explore the meanings of military conflict for individual Americans and for the nation from World War II to the present. The readings are interviews with the combatants, journalists, observers, and opponents of war in modern America. We will also look at the methodology and uses of oral history. Students will conduct and transcribe their own interviews, and then participate in a performance based on these interviews at the conclusion of the semester.

Required Texts
Christian Appy, Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides
Steve Estes, Ask & Tell: Gay & Lesbian Veterans Speak Out
Michelle Ferrari, Reporting America at War: An Oral History
Donald Ritchie, Doing Oral History
Studs Terkel, The “Good War”
Trish Wood, What Was Asked of Us
Plus Additional Reserve Articles & Essays

Assignments & Grades
Quizzes (30% of the final grade): There will be six unscheduled quizzes on the outside readings in this class. This way, you must read the books or articles every week and be prepared to take a quiz. Poor quiz grades will quickly reduce your grade point average, while good quiz grades can easily compensate for shyness in the classroom discussions.

Class Participation (10% of final grade): For this course to work, every student must keep up with the reading and actively participate in class discussion every week. Attendance is mandatory, but you may miss up to two classes without an excuse. Your participation grade will be based on the frequency and quality of contributions to the class discussion.

Midterm Exam (20% of final grade): About 2/3s of the way through the semester, we will have a take-home examination, on which students will answer two essay questions based on the outside readings for the class. Since this take-home is open book, I will expect essays to include short quotes from the readings to support your main points. 

Research/Oral History Paper (20% of final grade): The final written assignment for the class is an 8-10 page research paper based on oral history sources as well as written primary and secondary sources. Over the course of the semester, you will complete a proposal and an introduction to this paper. You will make copies of these assignments for the instructor and the other members of your writing group.

Final Performance (20% of the final grade): In lieu of a final examination, the class will create a performance presentation based on excerpts of oral histories conducted over the course of the semester. Performances can be skits or monologues, but they must use the words of oral history interviews in a creative way to express the experiences of warfare or wartime in modern America. The class will present one performance for the campus and community, and all students must participate in the performance in some meaningful way.


8.25 Introduction: Oral History and Performance
Required Reading: None
Video Clips: Dan Hoyle’s Each and Every Thing and The Real Americans (excerpts)
Performance: Veteran’s History Project

9.01 The Greatest Generation (Part I)
Required Reading: Terkel, The “Good War” (pp. 3-253)
Discussion and Performance: The “Good War”
Audio Clips: Terkel Interviews (

9.08 The Greatest Generation (Part II)
Required Reading: Terkel, The “Good War” (pp. 253-349, 387-458, 505-573)
Discussion and Performance: The “Good War”
Video Clip: Atomic Café  
Activity: Designing a WW II Memorial

9.15 Doing Oral History
Required Reading: Alex Haley, "Black History, Oral History, and Genealogy" (on-line) and Ritchie, Doing Oral History (pp. 1-46, 84-109)
Discussion: Interviewing Workshop
Debate: The Validity of Oral History

9.22 Using Oral History
Required Reading: Ritchie, Doing Oral History (pp. 110-133, 188-206, 222-245, 252-255)
Workshop: Interviewing Tips & Techniques

9.29 Vietnam (Part I)
Required Reading: Appy, Patriots (xv-27, 60-89, 101-145, 170-187, 200-220, 238-278)
Discussion and Performance: Patriots
Video Clip: Dear America: Letters from Vietnam

10.06 Vietnam (Part II)
Required Reading: Appy, Patriots (285-303, 307-327, 343-361, 384-421, 470-511, 529-550)
Required Writing: Term Paper Proposal
Discussion and Performance: Patriots
Discussion: Paper Proposals
Video Clip: The Fog of War

10.13 Oral History’s “Hidden Transcripts”
Required Reading: Estes, Ask & Tell (1-92, 152-209, 229-254)
Required Writing: Interview Questions
Activity: Critique the Professor
Discussion: Interview Questions in Writing Groups

10.20 Interviewing the Interviewers
Required Reading: Ferrari, Reporting America at War (1-9, 63-228)
Discussion and Performance, Reporting America at War
Video Clip: The Green Berets

10.27 The Gulf Wars
Required Reading: Wood, What Was Asked of Us (xiii-204, 292-296)
Discussion and Performance: What Was Asked of Us
Video Clip: Jarhead

11.03 Oral History and Performance
Video Clip: Anna Deveare Smith, Twilight Los Angeles, 1992
Performance: Student Interview Excerpts
Take Home: Midterm Essay Questions

11.10 Rehearsal
Required Writing: Midterm Essays Due
Performance: Student Interview Excerpts

11.17 Dress Rehearsal (I)
Required Writing: Midterm Essays Due
Required Reading: Memorize Lines for Performance
Performance Groups: Critique One Another’s Performances
Dress Rehearsal: 50-55 minutes (No Breaks)

11.23 Dress Rehearsal (II) [Note Monday night class meeting]
Required Reading: Memorize Lines for Performance
Dress Rehearsal: 50-55 minutes (No Breaks) 7-9:00 PM

11.30 Final Performance [Note Monday night meeting]
The final performance is in Schroeder Hall 7-9:00

12.01 Research Day
[No Class]

12.08 Final Papers Due
Turn in papers to my box in the History Dept. Office by 4:00 PM.