Bringing history to life

Public history professor Erin Devlin’s love of the past prompted her to open up the time capsule that is UW-Eau Claire.
Devlin’s oral history project was initiated last year when she arrived on campus as a new professor and she wanted to learn more about the school’s history.

“I thought a good way to learn some of that history was to give my students some training in oral history,” Devlin said, “and have them interview alumni to get a sense of their experiences and learn how campus has changed.”

Students in her Introduction to Public History class conducted interviews with alumni, and then produced broadcast segments from the recorded interviews.

Students had to create seven to 10 minute clips and produce a podcast that would be used by the campus radio station, WUEC. Students were able to work closely with WUEC staff while creating their oral histories.

“The thing that’s exciting about it is that students got training from start to finish,” Devlin said. “They did all the interviews, made the transcripts, and used software like Audacity to edit their recordings.”

What’s even more exciting is the opportunity for students to present their oral histories as part of the Chancellor’s Centennial History Series, which will focus on Eau Claire’s history.

History professor James Oberly, who is currently forming a comprehensive history of Eau Claire, approached Devlin to see if students would be interested in sharing their projects as part of the lecture celebrating the school’s 100-year anniversary.
One of those students interested in presenting is junior public history major, Sean Szydel.

“I want to present my project because it’s something that’s treasured, people who enjoy history really find this stuff interesting,” Szydel said.  “I was able to bring the past to life and I worked really hard on my podcast. I’m really proud of what I have and I’d like to display that.”
Szydel interviewed two alumni, one who graduated in 1948 and one who graduated in 1957. He asked them questions like what was campus life like, what were your favorite classes and who were your favorite professors?

Even though it was a hassle sometimes, Szydel said he enjoyed the project and had a great experience.

“To hear these women talk about people who our educational and administrative buildings are named after, to hear their experiences and realize they were totally different from mine, I mean, it was really cool,” he said.

Students who wish to present will not know if they are chosen until closer to the lecture date. The lecture featuring the projects is scheduled for March 26, 2014.

“I think for a lot of college students, their college experience is so defining for them, it’s hard for them to realize that college hasn’t always been this way,” Devlin said. “The alumni they interviewed had completely different experiences and I think it forced my students to get out of their bubble.”