Dr. Rainer Baehre of Grenfell's historical studies program fears that too many important stories and too much historical information will be lost if oral histories are not preserved.
This year, Dr. Baehre took the students in enrolled in his Oral History course on a road trip. Destination: a few small communities on the Northern Peninsula of the island to learn from the older generation. Students conducted interviews on the Northern Peninsula in the Parson's Pond and Portland Creek area along with other forms of research, and compiled over 300 pages of transcripts and multiple research papers looking at traditional land use.
"This class project provided otherwise unexplored insights into habitation on the Northern Peninsula, prior to the development of roads to the area in the 1950s, and the conversations shed light on the sustainable subsistence economies that existed and then continue to be practiced."
While many themes emerged through the research, this research explored primarily the annual cycles of land use such as fishing, hunting, and foraging in relation to individual community histories, and how these practices overlap with Mi'kmaq land use on the west coast.
Each student looked at a different historical theme, discussed their methods and findings with the rest of the class, interviewed local inhabitants using informed consent, transcribed their interviews and shared them with other students, and then prepared papers which analyzed the impact of technology, government relations, changing climate, and changing industries in the latter half of the 20th century, as well as what options there might be for the future regeneration of the region considering the declining pulp and paper industry, sealing, fishing and rural depopulation, said Dr. Baehre.
The oral interviews and transcript were collected and are safely stored. Copies will be made and sent back to the interviewees and kept for future preservation in an archive or university library.
This course supplements more traditional text-based teaching and learning. Students benefit by directly encountering those who have lived "history" and who wish to add their "voice" to the historical record, said Dr. Baehre. As this course also relies on sharing information and discussing findings, it is a class-based forum for team-based research and writing that moves beyond traditional seminar or lecture-based learning, he said.
"Finally, by "creating" historical documentation that might ordinarily not exist, the students not only engage with a community in recording aspects of its history but contribute to documenting that history, thereby leaving a permanent legacy for the community and future researchers as opposed to merely writing a term paper to complete their course requirements," he said.