Traverse City News and Events

Oral History Projects Aim To Capture Local Stories, History

By Ross Boissoneau | Jan. 19, 2020

Everyone has a story to tell. That’s the premise of a new project at Traverse Area Community Media. “Reflections” is an oral history project geared toward engaging people to tell their stories and those of their families, building an archive of personal histories from throughout the region.“We have a great space here, the largest public access TV studio in northwestern lower Michigan, and we thought a great way to use it would be to record oral histories,” says Matt Kern, station manager.

The idea came to Kern when he found an old recording that his father had done with his (Matt’s) great-grandmother. “She went through what it was like to grow up in Calumet in the early 1900s,” Kern says.

He found it so interesting he proposed the station collect such stories from those around the area. His co-workers shared his enthusiasm. “They thought it was a good value to the community.”

So now he’s looking for people interested in telling their stories in a studio setting, with the interviews then broadcast on the station’s channel 189. The interviewees will also be given a copy of the proceedings, which they can use for their own purposes, including posting it online if they so choose.

The project is open to anyone from the area, whatever their age and no matter where they grew up. Kern anticipates the 90-minute sessions will yield interviews of 40 to 60 minutes.

Kern says those being interviewed won’t need anything other than their memories, but they are welcome to bring photos or other mementoes if they wish. Interviewees can show them to the camera during the interview, or take classes and learn how to scan and insert them into the video. “We’re trying to encourage media literacy as well,” says Kern. Anyone interested in participating can contact Kern at TACM.

Reflections isn’t the only local project focused on personal histories: Two similar projects are underway in Benzie County.

“People have all these stories,” says Barbara Mort, executive director of the Benzie Area Historical Museum. She is heading up a project interviewing five local residents about their lives and their memories of the area. Once the interviews are complete, they will be archived at the library. Not only will they be accessible in whole, they will be time-stamped with regard to various subjects, such as agriculture or industry. Museum visitors looking at artifacts will be able to see and hear the portions of the interviews which relate to those objects through iPads.

Funding for the project came from Luedtke Engineering. Mort is hoping to get additional grant funding to extend the program beyond the five scheduled interviews.

The historical society is also collaborating with the library on a project funded through the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences (ILMS).“I think it’s important to connect people, hear others’ stories,” says Amanda McLaren, the director of the Benzonia Public Library.

So she applied for and received a grant from the ILMS. The result is “Remembering Benzie:  An Oral History Project,” a two-year grant program involving student interns from Benzie Central High School. Each of the four students was provided a laptop and camera and received a stipend.

McLaren says the project involves three parts: interviewing local veterans, an outreach and educational component, and interviewing people in the community. Thus far, each of the interns have interviewed two veterans, and one also interviewed her great-grandfather, for a total of nine. Their war experience ranged from World War II to Vietnam to Iraq and encompassed several different branches of the Armed Services.

“The veterans said it meant a great deal to talk to the younger generation,” says McLaren. “And the kids were so thoughtful. It was very powerful and impactful for the kids.

In addition to posting the interviews on YouTube, the students will present the material at the Benzie Area Historical Museum. The program will also be showcased at the Garden Theater in Frankfort in May, and will include a panel discussion. The students who participated will also lead a workshop at the library this summer.

Local history buffs say such projects are invaluable. Dave Taghon heads the Empire Area Museum and began interviewing and recording residents regarding the area’s history back in 1974. “I think it’s important to know where we came from,” he says. While people can see artifacts and read about history at museums, he believes hearing the stories from those who lived them is invaluable. “It’s the whole idea of their personal memories.”


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