By: Garett Chrisman, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2019, History, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne
Thus far my time with the Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project has been highly productive. I have had the privilege of recording the experiences of a unique collection of IU alumni from several campuses. As a history major eagerly striving to connect my work to a tangible outlet, this internship has been an eye opening experience.
It has given me a window into the ways in which I can implement the skills I’ve acquired from my classes into real world situations.
Initially getting my footing in this project was a struggle as this is my first experience working with an oral history project. I was simultaneously overwhelmed and fascinated by my newfound opportunity. To overcome this problem, I stayed in contact with my on-campus mentor Dr. Gail Hickey and used resources that were left at my disposal. I acclimated relatively quickly to the project and its daily tasks thanks to the work of the previous intern.
This was the first time I had used dedicated recording equipment for interviewing alumni. Working with the new recording equipment was a bit foreign at first, but it was simple enough to figure out within the span of several practice runs. Becoming familiar with the equipment is a skill that I think will be useful when I pursue future opportunities in recording oral history.
Primarily, the people I have had the pleasure of interviewing have been IPFW alumni with IU degrees and through their experiences I have gotten a firsthand look of how the Fort Wayne Campus has grown since the 1960’s. Initially what I knew about IPFW was limited to what I experienced on campus and what I learned during orientation. The interviews I’ve conducted have expanded my view of what IPFW means to the Fort Wayne community.
On one occasion, I conducted an interview where the subject reflected on the growth that both the city and the university had made and lamented IU and Purdue’s joint decision to split the campus in accordance with USAP (University Strategic Alignment Process).
The city of Fort Wayne has matured alongside IPFW and the alignment process has had a profound effect on the student community who will continue to interact with the university long after graduation.
On another occasion an alumni told me about the growth of Helmke Library and how they had worked in the facility for nearly its entire history. Without these recorded experiences with former students and staff both the larger community of Fort Wayne, and myself, would be ignorant of their unique stories.
Nervous interview subjects are a problem that I have encountered while working this semester and with my on-campus mentor’s assistance I have taken steps to resolve these problems. Steps such as being able to achieve rapport with a relative stranger and comfortably guide them back through their time as an IU student.
In the meantime, there is still a lot left to learn about the student and faculty communities that form the pillar of IU campuses including IPFW and how we can look back at their experiences to improve our future. I think this project has given me several challenges to overcome and I am doing everything I can to do my part.
Looking back, I can see clearly that these challenges have helped me grow as an interviewer, but what I am most concerned with is how I can use these hurdles to look forward and relate these memories to the bicentennial community.
What I am most proud of when I think about my time on this project is the role I play as a mediator in collecting history. The pride that I feel that I am here and able to help bridge the gap between an abstract concept such as memories and turn it into a tangible piece of reality like an oral history which can allow future generations to look back and remember where they came from.
I have for a long time been personally invested in the subject of history and it makes me sincerely happy to be able to use the skills I have learned during this experience, but it is this role as an intermediary that truly gives me something to fondly look back upon.
To read part one of this blog, please visit: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2016/11/07/ipfws-oral-history-project/