The Archive of Immigrant Voices (Digital Project Proposal)

Founded in 2011, the Center for the History of the New America—through UMD’s history department—provides an institutional home for interdisciplinary research on the long history of the American immigrant experience. The Center contributes to and distributes information on immigration and migration scholarship to a broad public through academic publications, presentations, conferences, and mass media. A large focus of the Center is on contemporary United States immigration and migration. Since 1965, legal changes have allowed for increased immigration into the United States, transforming American society and continuing to inform understandings of global change, migration, and the American experience.

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One aspect of the Center’s push for continued research and scholarship on this “New America” is the Archive of Immigrant Voices. Established in 2012 the archive is intended as a digital repository of oral history interviews documenting the experience of migration. Its purpose, as explained on its current website,, “is to create, accumulate, and preserve a repository of memories that will not only reveal living history and features of the recent past, but will also document the fine lines of social change that might otherwise be ignored or lost to history.” Since 2012, however, only a handful of interviews have been conducted, and the webpage remains a largely undeveloped piece of the Center’s larger site—containing only one oral history and a short abstract on the project.

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For my digital project I propose to re-create the Archive of Immigrant Voices website using the content management site Omeka. The six oral histories that currently exist will be uploaded, along with abstracts/bios of the interviewees, full transcripts, and Dublin Core description. Students in Dr. Anne Rush’s Spring 2015 Course, HIST428M: Selected Topics in History; Foreigners as Citizens: Recording Oral Histories of Immigration, will also be submitting additional oral histories and transcriptions for the archive in May of this year. I will also work on creating tags for topics, names, places, etc. mentioned within the interviews. Additional webpages within the site will also be created, such as an “about” page to explain the project, its history, and goals. The Center for the History of the New America will also be linked to the archive website, and a page on immigration history will be included in order to describe the archive’s place within the Center and its importance in facilitating new understandings of the immigrant experience—specifically past 1965.

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A key aspect of the Center’s larger mission is education. As such, teachers and students serve as the primary audience, not only for the Center at large, but also for the Archive of Immigrant Voices. In order to facilitate this mission, I hope to include an education page on the archive website. This will contain resources on conducting oral histories (including sample interview questions, how-to’s on audio and video recording, examples of permission agreements, etc.) and links to other useful organizations related to oral history and the immigrant experience (such as the Oral History Association, the Ellis Island Oral History Project, and the Arab Immigration Oral History Digital Collection). In conjunction with the executive director of the Center, Dr. Katarina Keane, I will also to create lesson plans and educator and student resources more tailored to the archive’s collections and the oral histories of immigrants in general. These will focus on using oral histories as way to gain new understandings of the immigrant experience within America. We hope to align these with standards in the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards. In our efforts to draft ideas for lesson plans and education resources, we are also researching how other institutions have created specific student projects related to oral history and immigration. For instance, we have been reviewing the Library of Congress’s lesson plans on “Immigration and Oral History,” and PBS’s lesson plan on Immigration Oral History and the “New Americans.”

As the Archive continues to grow and more oral histories are collected, I hope to organize interviews alphabetically and into more specific topics, such as geographic location, interview subjects, age of interviewees, etc. Dr. Keane and I also want to make the Archive a collaborative effort, such that individuals interested in sharing their migration and immigration stories can upload interviews, photographs, and bios through the website. We hope to increase community, faculty, and student participation and awareness by publicizing the ongoing creation of the new Archive of Immigrant Voices through the Center’s main webpage, listserv, and social media accounts. A new abstract about the Archive—and how people can contribute—will also be created and put into our bi-annual newsletter to be distributed at events and conferences in the upcoming year. As participation increases and the Archive grows, we hope to promote the original mission of the Center and the Archive itself by preserving memories and histories that further document the immigrant experience.

3 Replies to “The Archive of Immigrant Voices (Digital Project Proposal)”

  1. I like that you are working to build off of/improve an existing project and that you have found students working in another course who are going to contribute to this. That is a smart way to expand what you can make happen in the course and a nice way to find a potential life for the project beyond the life of the course.

    The idea for an education page is great. In particular, I like that you are planning to create some teacher lesson plans for the site. It would be great to plan on building in some cycles where you find some teachers to give you feedback on the lesson plans. There is often a big gulf between what we think might be useful to educators and the realities of the classroom so it would be ideal to build in that sort of review process.

    Two suggestions for things to respond to/add to the project if you are going forward with it as your course project (which I imagine you are planning to). 1) it would be great to have a very specific scope laid out for what exactly you plan to have done by the end of the semester. So, that might be saying X number of oral histories and X number of lesson plans. 2) It would be great to build in some bit here where you get feedback from potential users. That can be as simple as getting a few folks to just try using the site in front of you at some point to see what parts of it are working as you intended and what parts aren’t.

    So those are a few thoughts. This is a cool project and if you want to just respond to a few of those points in a comment you should be good to go.

  2. Hey! I was planning on making two lesson plans for my oral history project to align with the Virginia SOL’s. Do you thing the C3 requirements are better standards to align with?

    1. Hi Jamie–I have decided on reviewing the C3 standards for my lesson plans because we are not a state organization at the Center, nor do we focus primarily on local history so C3 is a way to attempt to meet national standards. I’m still trying to brainstorm a bit with my boss and colleague about the best way to create lesson plans that are in fact useful for educators, since it’s tricky without mandated national standards.

      I will say that the C3 is not required and most states do not incorporate it into their state standards/frameworks or curriculum (often times its too new and standards have not recently been revised; or many states have issues with the C3 for political reasons, etc.). For local history I think it’s always better to align educational content with state standards and instructional resources. Teachers are far more likely (and often required to) align their classroom content with state standards. I’d also suggest checking out Virginia Department of Education’s website, as they also have sample instructional resources/lesson plans for helping teachers implement standards in their classrooms (Tyler Stump, my fellow GA at the Center just reviewed their SS standards for our Smithsonian report). If you’d like to brainstorm any ideas I’d be happy to. I know I could also use your advice on tips for setting up the Omeka site since you’ve already mastered a lot of it.

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