Collecting memories with a microphone

Students create an archive about a long-gone chapter of campus life

Surrounded by a swirling sea of graduates and graduate students gathered in the Wardlaw College courtyard, Elvera Johnson Holroyd stood out. Was that an original 1963 University High School letter sweater she had on? It was!

Holroyd was talking with Rebecca Borovsky, her de facto biographer. Borovsky was a student in EDHE 730, Evolution of American Higher Education, and she had been assigned to do something she had never done before:  interview, record, transcribe and make available the memories of a University High graduate. Holroyd was her subject.

“We talked about Elvera’s experiences at University High and about what made the school great. She was involved with the yearbook, and she played a lot of sports — she was on the girls’ basketball team the year they won the state tournament,” Borovsky said. “It gave me a new appreciation for the history of the College of Education, and I learned about the importance of lab high schools and how they are the model for today’s magnet schools.”

From 1932 to 1966, University High School operated in Wardlaw College as a public laboratory school and training ground for teachers. Though the school closed half a century ago, its graduates still reunite every three years to reminisce about their beloved alma mater. In November 2016, they gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the school’s last graduating class.

Christian Anderson said there is always a research project in his EDHE 730 course, usually one that uses the South Caroliniana Library collection, and he always invites the university’s oral historian to talk to his students.

“Andrea L’Hommedieu helps them understand what they have when they come across an oral history transcript, and how it is different from other research materials they might find,” said Anderson, an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policies. “Then I ask them to conduct short oral histories for practice with each other.”

In fall 2016, he and L’Hommedieu turned that practice into the University High project.

“The students were responsible for every aspect of the oral history: they chose the person to interview, contacted them to explain the project and request an interview, followed through with an interview, even got the required release signed giving us permission to add their oral history to our collection,” L’Hommedieu said.

She sees the project as the first of many that will bring together students, archival collections and people with a story to tell.

“The goal for my students was two-fold,” Anderson said. “I wanted them to learn and contribute something about University High, and I wanted them to learn the process of oral history research. They contributed 34 oral histories, and they learned that gathering oral histories is fun, engaging and challenging.”

L’Hommedieu hopes other faculty will see the value of oral history and partner with her. “You can do an oral history of anything, and the experience is invaluable for students. I want faculty to see how open-ended it is and how it can be incorporated into any course.”

With funding from University Libraries, L’Hommedieu purchased and put together 14 oral history sound-recording kits for student use.

“Andrea came into our class and, right then and there, taught us how to use the kits,” said student Charlie Koors. “You don’t want to do an hour-long interview and then realize you forgot to turn the recorder on. She taught us how to set up the microphone, end the interview, and make sure the interview was stored properly.

“When we finished and gave her the WAVE files, she put the interview online immediately so that we could transcribe it. I interviewed Katherine Janetos Trimnal, Class of 1965, who graduated from USC and became a photojournalist. That transcript was 14 pages long and filled with her University High experiences.”

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This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of University Libraries. Read the complete issue online

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