Publishing the history & culture 

of Southeastern New England • Since 1981

History Spoken Here, Vol. I

Funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council

Volume I by 7th & 8th graders, New Bedford Public Schools

ISBN 978-0932027- (paper) Digital Copies Only

8.5” x 11” • Pub. 1988

History Spoken Here is a local history curriculum for middle or high school students in which students and teachers learn community history through participation in the process of creating community history. Students are asked to interview a family member, guardian, or elderly friend, and are guided by methods developed by Spinner staff, school administrators, and teachers. Students learn how to transcribe and edit the interview into a concise oral history document. In the process, they make a personal connection between their own heritage, their physical environment, and the community. As they develop their own verbal and nonverbal communication skills, the preparation of their work for publication develops their literary, artistic and organizational skills. The project stresses experiential learning techniques or “learning by doing,” and the end product is creation of a magazine entitled History Spoken Here, which will be distributed publicly and commercially throughout the region. 

The curriculum includes taking a series of field trips to the workplace; several multi-media classroom presentations on local history; and interaction with guests from the community who come to the classroom to be interviewed. Also, a series of teacher workshops are planned where staff, administrators and teachers can organize classroom activities and review techniques. 

History Spoken Here is a compilation of the students’ work, illustrated with images collected or created by the students, and designed and manufactured during class. Students learn how to build a publication, immersing themselves in the disciplines of the visual arts and electronic imaging, and make tough editorial decisions on content, design, artwork and photography.

In the classroom, Spinner staff and the teachers complement what students are learning firsthand. A multi-media presentation on New Bedford’s cultural history informs students about the people who have built their city, its industries and institutions, and how individuals are related to that process. They see how the population evolved into the diverse ethnic makeup that exists today, and how different cultures have shaped our lives, individually and collectively. Students discover the part of history which is closest to them—family, the neighborhood, immigration, working, and growing up—and realize their connection to it. They learn that history is not just something that happens at a distance, or in a bygone era, but is shaped everyday by the lives of individuals, including themselves. The History Spoken Here curriculum uses a personal and active approach that emphasizes the experience of the interviewee. Interesting guests who represent the community at large are introduced during class: retired textile workers, fishermen, doctors, immigrants, or industrialists. The class conducts a sample interview to learn firsthand about subjects discussed, to acquaint themselves with the proper methods of conducting an interview, and to learn how to actively participate in the documentary process. Visual aids—slide and film presentations, photographs, books and artifacts—are used to complement the oral history.

Classroom guests help familiarize students with work activities they will be observing on their field trips, and are living proof that community history is an active experience which incorporates an ever-evolving relationship between the past and the present. At the same time, avenues of communication (particularly inter-generational) are expanded. Several field trips are organized for students to visit work sites and cultural sites in the community. Visiting places where many of the student’s relatives may work—textile mills, garment factories, fish processing plants, or neighborhood businesses—contributes to the students’ understanding of their role and the roles of others in shaping community life. 

Among the sites visited on field trips were the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Slater Mill Museum, Plimoth Plantation, apparel industries, fish houses and chandleries, the fish auction, Revere Copper Works, Polaroid Corp., a printing plant, an ice house, and a cranberry bog. In the classroom we talked with one of the last living whalers, a Native American, a retired fisherman, women textile workers, a cranberry worker, an immigrant who stowed-away aboard a freighter, and others. These people represent the diverse ethnic strains in the region. On field trips, admission fees were waived by cultural institutions, and private companies took the time to guide the group through their plants and explain the manufacturing process to the students.

A series of teacher workshops are orchestrated to give the teachers an understanding of the program, the process of oral history interviewing, and how to prepare the oral history publication. We demonstrate aspects of electronic publishing such as the use of flatbed scanners, and page-layout and image-editing software. The workshops provide teachers a forum to evaluate the progress of the program and the performance of all participants and make adjustments in the planning process. The teachers’ comments provide direction in upcoming classes to shape a program that is self-sustaining.

The arts and humanities are at the core of the History Spoken Here curriculum. The interviews themselves touch on cultural, sociological and other aspects of the human condition such as immigration, family, religion, work and growing up. The project fosters an appreciation of New Bedford’s ethnic diversity, meets state and federal Frameworks Standards, fits the overall goals for reaching at-risk students in areas where the school’s population has limited access to cultural resources, and can easily be adapted for after-school programs.

History Spoken Here is an ideal program for educational systems in communities like New Bedford, with a high percentage of at-risk students. Through the process of conducting, editing, and publishing an oral history interview, the student’s engagement with family or adult role models increases. Learning opportunities develop, and students focus on their assets (including their backgrounds and prior experiences) in order to execute their stories. The involvement of parents, families, or adult role models in the educational process is an important key in breaking down negative attitudes and combatting one of the most important sources of an inadequate educational experience—the lack of parental involvement in a child’s education. 

The project experience takes place in both academic and nonacademic collaborative settings (e.g., students conduct their interviews at home and edit them in the classroom with their mates). Students are encouraged to develop thinking skills and build positive, trusting relationships with adults as they develop their stories. Inside the school, teachers and students share the results of their oral history project with other classes. Outside the school, the booklet will be displayed and circulated throughout the community, so that the community itself is enriched by the process.