Sharing the stories of war
Bolton & students collect veterans' oral histories for StoryCorps
UNCG’s Dr. Chuck Bolton believes that everyone has an important story that needs to be told.
That’s why the professor of history is partnering with the Greensboro Public Library and the national project StoryCorps to document the stories of war through his course “Oral History and the Veterans’ Experience.”
“Oral history is a way to preserve the voices of everyday people,” he said. “As people look back years from now, these stories will be important.”
One of the signature offerings of UNCG’s War & Peace Imagined event series, “Oral History and the Veterans’ Experience” is designed as both a course for UNCG honors students and a community project. This unique collaboration provides students and community members the opportunity to work together and collect the stories of individuals who have been impacted by war – from veterans to conscientious objectors to refugees fleeing conflict.
In September, StoryCorps traveled to Greensboro to train the 17 students and nine community members participating in the project. Since then, participants have interviewed “storytellers” from a variety of backgrounds. As a StoryCorps project, the interviews will be archived in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as in the Greensboro Public Library.
Over the course of the semester, students have learned oral history theory, interviewing techniques and listening skills.
“The difficult part is knowing when to ask follow-up questions,” Bolton said. “These interviews require students to think on their feet and listen closely. If you’ve done a good interview, you’ll likely be mentally exhausted afterward.”
Junior James Bredon was interested in taking the course because his grandfather is a Korean War veteran.
“I wanted to learn how to ask people about their military experience,” said Bredon, who is double majoring in political science and international and global studies. “Conducting interviews with veterans has shown me firsthand how conflict can have a profound impact on individuals – many interviews led to moments of intense emotion or deep thought.”
Sophomore Alyssa Sanchez was familiar with StoryCorps through its weekly broadcast on NPR and jumped at the opportunity to work with the organization.
“It’s been fascinating to gain a behind-the-scenes look at the production side of StoryCorps,” she said.
Why is it important to collect the stories of war? According to Bolton, military conflict is nearly universal.
“Throughout history, warfare has impacted so many different populations,” he said, adding that the project is also an opportunity to collect some of the last remaining stories from World War II veterans.
The course will culminate in a final project for students. Additionally, Bolton and the Greensboro Public Library will present several story sharing sessions to the public on Feb. 9 and March 9.
For Bolton and his students, the project is a perfect example of history’s importance and relevance today.
“These stories have power,” Bolton said. “They really impact people.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications