INFO 284-15
Seminar in Archives and Records Management
Topic: Oral History
Fall 2016 Syllabus

Nancy MacKay
Office Hours: by e-mail

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This is an online-only class using Canvas and Collaborate.

Canvas Information: Courses will be available beginning August 24th, 6am PT unless you are taking an intensive or a one unit or two unit class that starts on a different day. In that case the class will open on the first day that the class meets.

You will be enrolled into the Canvas site automatically.

Course Description

Oral history is a method of documenting recent history through recorded interviews. This course surveys the theory and practice of oral history as a means to supplement the historical record, with an emphasis on the relationship between library science and oral history. Students interested in public history, archives, or simply curious about oral history will enjoy the class. There are no prerequisites.

Using the life-cycle model students will  design and implement an oral history project from conception to archiving. Each student will create a project design statement; select a narrator;  prepare, conduct, transcribe, and process an audio recorded interview. Students will apply the methodology we learn in class to their oral history project.

Though students work individually on their oral history project, there are many opportunities for discussion and collaboration. Learning is primarily by doing, accompanied by exercises, discussions and reading/listening/viewing assignments. Guest speakers will enliven our weekly lessons and provide a fresh perspective on current oral history practice.

The course is organized into five learning modules as follows:

  1. Introduction to Oral History
    1. Week 1. Course introduction
    2. Week 2. Oral history overview
    3. Week 3. Oral history life cycle
  2. Planning an Oral History Project
    1. Week 4. Planning overview
    2. Week 5. Developing historical context and content
    3. Week 6. Special topics
      1. Legal and ethical issues
      2. Recording technology
      3. Relationship with repository
  3. The Interview
    1. Week 7. Interviewing overview
    2. Week 8. Interview nuts and bolts
    3. Week 9. Transcribing
    4. Week 10. Alternatives to transcribing
  4. After the Interview
    1. Week 11. Processing overview
    2. Week 12. Cataloging and metadata
    3. Week 13. Preservation
    4. Week 14. Access
  5. Evaluation, Weeks 15-17
    1. Week 15. Assessment
    2. Week 16. Reflection
    3. Week 17. Wrap-Up

The week cycle runs from Monday through Sunday. Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on the Sunday due date. The workload is heaviest during the interview and transcription stage, around weeks 6-12.

Most course content will be delivered on Collaborate through prerecorded and live lectures. Unless noted otherwise, live sessions are scheduled on Sundays at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Students are strongly encouraged to attend live sessions, especially for guest speakers, however no live attendance is required.  All Collaborate meetings as well as prerecorded lectures  archived on our Canvas course site for access throughout the semester. 

Course Requirements

In addition to the standard technology required for iSchool, students will work with audio files. Students will use a digital audio recorder of their choice to record the interview (or video with special permission),  transfer the sound file to their computer, upload it onto the iSchool server, and transcribe the interview from the sound files.


  1. Project Design Statement. Create a project design statement using the template provided. (15 points) CLO #1, 2, 3, 4
  2. Narrator profile. Create a biographical profile of the chosen narrator using the template provided. (5 points) CLO #3, 7
  3. Quiz. This short quiz will test comprehension of oral history best practices we've discussed in class. (0 points, self grade) CLO #6, 7, 8
  4. Interview. Prepare and conduct a 60 minute audio recorded interview. (15 points) SLO #1, 2, 3, 4
  5. Interview Summary. Summarize the circumstances and content of the interview using the template provided (10 points) CLO #3, 5
  6. Transcript. Transcribe and audit edit interview, then submit transcript to the narrator for correction and approval. (15 points) CLO #3, 4, 5
  7. Cataloging Template. Create metadata using the template provided. (15 points) CLO #5, 7
  8. Final paper. Present and evaluate your oral history project according to instructions. (20 points) CLO # 2, 3, 5, 6, 7
  9. Extra credit opportunities will be announced in class.

Course Workload Expectations

Success in this course is based on the expectation that students will spend, for each unit of credit, a minimum of forty-five hours over the length of the course (normally 3 hours per unit per week with 1 of the hours used for lecture) for instruction or preparation/studying or course related activities including but not limited to internships, labs, clinical practica. Other course structures will have equivalent workload expectations as described in the syllabus.

Instructional time may include but is not limited to:
Working on posted modules or lessons prepared by the instructor; discussion forum interactions with the instructor and/or other students; making presentations and getting feedback from the instructor; attending office hours or other synchronous sessions with the instructor.

Student time outside of class:
In any seven-day period, a student is expected to be academically engaged through submitting an academic assignment; taking an exam or an interactive tutorial, or computer-assisted instruction; building websites, blogs, databases, social media presentations; attending a study group;contributing to an academic online discussion; writing papers; reading articles; conducting research; engaging in small group work.

Course Prerequisites

INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204, other prerequisites may be added depending on content. 

Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Plan and implement an oral history project.
  2. Apply history research methods to develop context for the topic at hand.
  3. Prepare, conduct, and record an oral history interview.
  4. Identify the legal and ethical issues involved in recording a person's memories and making them available to researchers and the general public.
  5. Implement current oral history processing and preservation practices and techniques.
  6. Evaluate methods of access to completed oral histories.
  7. Understand the uses of oral history as a primary source.
  8. Participate in oral history's professional and scholarly community.

Core Competencies (Program Learning Outcomes)

INFO 284 supports the following core competencies:

  1. F Use the basic concepts and principles related to the selection, evaluation, organization, and preservation of physical and digital information items.
  2. H Demonstrate proficiency in identifying, using, and evaluating current and emerging information and communication technologies.


Required Textbooks:

  • MacKay, N. (2016). Curating oral histories: From interview to archive (2nd ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press/ Routledge. Available through Amazon: 161132856Xarrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain
  • Ritchie, D. A. (2015). Doing oral history (3rd ed.) . New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Available through Amazon: 0199329338arrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain

Recommended Textbooks:

  • Sommer, B., & Quinlan, M. (2009). The oral history manual (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Available through Amazon: 0759111588arrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain
  • Yow, V. R. (2015). Recording oral history: A guide for the humanities and social sciences (3rd ed.). Laham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Available through Amazon: 0759122679arrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain

Grading Scale

The standard SJSU School of Information Grading Scale is utilized for all iSchool courses:

97 to 100 A
94 to 96 A minus
91 to 93 B plus
88 to 90 B
85 to 87 B minus
82 to 84 C plus
79 to 81 C
76 to 78 C minus
73 to 75 D plus
70 to 72 D
67 to 69 D minus
Below 67 F


In order to provide consistent guidelines for assessment for graduate level work in the School, these terms are applied to letter grades:

  • C represents Adequate work; a grade of "C" counts for credit for the course;
  • B represents Good work; a grade of "B" clearly meets the standards for graduate level work;
    For core courses in the MLIS program (not MARA or Informatics) — INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204 — the iSchool requires that students earn a B in the course. If the grade is less than B (B- or lower) after the first attempt you will be placed on administrative probation. You must repeat the class if you wish to stay in the program. If - on the second attempt - you do not pass the class with a grade of B or better (not B- but B) you will be disqualified.
  • A represents Exceptional work; a grade of "A" will be assigned for outstanding work only.

Students are advised that it is their responsibility to maintain a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

University Policies

Per University Policy S16-9, university-wide policy information relevant to all courses, such as academic integrity, accommodations, etc. will be available on Office of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs' Syllabus Information web page at: Make sure to visit this page, review and be familiar with these university policies and resources.

In order to request an accommodation in a class please contact the Accessible Education Center and register via the MyAEC portal.

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