Southern High School history teacher Jennifer Davidson will do just about anything to talk to a veteran. She admits to tracking them down in grocery stores and parking lots to charm them into speaking with her freshmen classes. Her dedication helped the Veterans Oral History Project earn the Four Rivers Heritage Area Heritage Partnership of the Year award for an outstanding regional partnership in heritage interpretation, preservation, stewardship and education. The program works with Maryland Humanities and Southern High School’s Signature program.
Davidson sets up interviews between veterans and her students. This year’s veterans served after 9/11. Students learn how to conduct interviews from Dr. Barry Lanman, director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History at UMBC, then prepare to film and edit their conversations with the veterans for a short documentary video that culminates in the spring with a special screening of select oral histories.
Since 2015, the Veterans Oral History Project has involved over 300 students and 60 veterans. Bay Weekly asked two SHS freshmen to share with us their thoughts on the program as we honor Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
This year in my honors U.S. history class, led by teacher Jen Davidson, my classmates and I have been given the opportunity to interview veterans who have served any time from 9/11 (2001) to the present. This project is part of Southern’s Signature Program: Design, Preservation, and Innovation.
Our whole class has learned from a retired veteran who is also the Director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History at UMBC. Dr. Lanman has taught us how we should be interviewing these veterans and crucial techniques we need to be using throughout our interview.
My class has been working in groups, with everyone having their own job in the interview process. In my group, I am the executive assistant, so my job is to help the interviewer create suitable, informational questions to ask our veteran. My group mates and I have been working very hard together, preparing and helping one another through every part of this project to be able to have the very best interview possible.
One thing I am nervous about has to be asking our veteran questions on touchy subjects. I worry that the veteran will freeze up or become closed off or even have a change of attitude because of the type of question we asked. Dr. Lanman taught us that if that were to happen we should move on to a more positive question.
Also I am nervous that our veteran will give us one word answers, even though you can fix those by follow-up questions; the more information the veterans give your group the better the interview will go.
Another thing I am nervous about is that the interviewer interrupting the veteran before the question is fully finished.
One thing I would like to change about this project is if every member of the group would be able to ask the interviewer a couple questions, whether it’s a group question or just a question that the member is eager to ask.
This is a really great project to do as a freshman because it is pushing us out of our comfort zones and preparing us for future interviews we might encounter. I am very excited to be able to learn all about the veteran’s life before, during, and after their service. Also, their overall experience and how active duty has impacted them, personally.
I feel that this project is very productive and good to do as my generation was not alive during the horrific attack of 9/11, and learning straight from a soldier that was active during that time, about their job and how this attack affected them is a great way to fully understand what veterans actually experienced during their service. 9/11 has largely impacted not only our veterans but also every person in our country, forever changing the United States.
This year’s main focus is the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and how it has affected their lives.
Historian Dr. Barry Lanman helped us with our project. At the very beginning, he would come almost every week to help us structure our interviews to figure out how to read our veteran’s mood and what to look for to ask follow-up questions.
Southern High School’s Signature Program comes into play, too. It has shown us how to use the four C’s: Communicate, Collaborate, Critically Think and be Creative.
This week in class we are finishing up our main interview questions. The interview is an hour long one-on-one with the veteran. The only person to appear in the interview is the veteran.
As the interviewer, I hope to build a connection with my veteran by being empathetic and understanding toward answers, emotions and experiences.
Sometimes in school, and I know we’ve all been there, I find myself thinking, How am I ever going to use this in my future? But with this project it’s never been a thought.
This project is so much more than an assignment. It is an experience that you are sharing with the veteran and your classmates, as well as anyone who takes the time to watch our historical video documentary based on our hero.