Oral History, Migration and the Archive
Lesson Plan by Amber Abbas, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia

Student Activity: Design, conduct and transcribe an oral history interview with a South Asian migrant to the United States; deposit it with The South Asian American Digital Archive.

Time: Several weeks - One semester

1. Identify the regions and countries in the geographic region known as South Asia.
2. Describe the major trends in historical change, assimilation and acculturation that have affected South Asians in the diaspora.
3. Design, conduct, transcribe and analyze an oral history interview.
4. Request permission to prepare the interview for deposit with The South Asian American Digital Archive.
5. Relate historical knowledge to contemporary issues of politics and every day life in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora raised in the interview.
6. Share audio and transcript of oral history interview with narrator.

Supplies for this activity:
1. Internet access.
2. Readings on Oral History Methodology [See bibliography below].
3. Readings on the South Asian diaspora [See bibliography below].
4. Audio recording equipment. Good choices include: iPhone or iPod with Griffin iTalk adapter or iTalk app; Marantz PMD 620 or 660; Zoom H2; external microphone.
5. Individuals from the South Asian American community willing to contribute 1-2 hours of their time for an oral history interview.
6. Oral History Release Form [PDF].
7. Deed of Gift Form for The South Asian American Digital Archive. Email SAADA to request form.

1. Early in the class the instructor should project the SAADA website and demonstrate the purpose of the site and its organization. SAADA has a number of audio and video histories collected that can give the students a sense of the kind of interview they will conduct. Encourage them to listen to several of these interviews and read the transcriptions when available.
2. Using primary and secondary sources, teach the students about the history of the South Asian American diaspora.
3. Using primary, secondary and theoretical texts, train the students on the purpose of oral history and how to conduct an oral history interview.
4. Students should peer review and give feedback on another student’s interview transcript.
5. Students should write an analytical paper about their interview and the collection created by the class.
6. Finally, students should write a thank you note to their narrator and send them a copy of the audio and transcript.

Instructor’s Notes on the Activity:
This lesson should only be attempted by an instructor versed in oral history methodology and the history of South Asian Americans. SAADA can provide a home for interviews that are of high audio quality and well-transcribed. Contact SAADA to arrange a partnership.

Encourage students to locate their own narrator, in their community, among the faculty of your institution, through local organizations, or religious communities (churches, mosques, temples). The instructor may also want to make contact with potential narrators in the event that students have trouble locating their own. Before the students embark on the interview project, they should become familiar with the history of the South Asian American community and the meaning and purpose of oral history. SAADA provides a methodological anchor for the project and a home for the interviews, but should not be the only source for training.

The online archive www.saada.org houses over a thousand records pertinent to the history of South Asians in the United States dating to the early twentieth century when communities of South Asians were established in California and New York. These sources document a rich history that reveals tremendous diversity within the community that is sometimes masked by stereotypes of the “model minority,” the Indian Doctor or convenience store owner. The South Asian American community comprises vast linguistic, ethnic, religious, and ethnic diversity and reflects a broad range of gender and sexual preferences, professions, educational achievement and identities. SAADA introduces students to this diversity through first hand research.

• Students may be unfamiliar with the history of South Asians in the United States or the basic history and geography of South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka).
• Students may have a hard time locating a narrator independently. The instructor may need to facilitate by suggesting sites and strategies for locating a narrator or even making connections for the students.
• Students may not have access to recording technology. It may be helpful if the instructor has some equipment to loan.
• Students may submit poor transcriptions. It is very important to teach them to complete high quality transcriptions, otherwise they will have little value to the archive.
• Your institution may require Institutional Review Board approval for an oral history project like this. Check with your IRB before preparing and planning this lesson.

Selected Bibliography:
• Ajaya, Parvati Raghuram, Kumar Sahoo, Brij Maharaj and Dave Sangha, eds. Tracing an Indian Diaspora: Contexts, Memories, Representations. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.
• Bald, Vivek. "'Lost' in the City: Spaces and Stories of South Asian New York, 1917-1965." South Asian Popular Culture 5, no. 1 (April 2007): 59-76.
• Barrier, N.G. and Verne A. Dusenberry, eds. The Sikh Diaspora: Migration and the Experience Beyond Punjab. Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1989.
• Brown, Judith M. Global South Asians: Introducing the Modern Diaspora. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
• Bacon, Jean. Life Lines: Community, Family and Assimilation among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
• Bates, Crispin, ed. Community, Empire and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.
• Bhatia, Sunil, ed. American Karma: Race, Culture and Identity in the South Asian Diaspora. New York: New York University Press, 2007.
• Bhatt, Amy & Nalini Iyer. Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.
• Dasgupta, Shamita Das, ed. A Patchwork Shawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
• Clarke, C, C. Peach and S. Vertovec, eds. South Asians Overseas: Migration and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
• Susan Koshy and R. Radhakrishnan, eds. Transnational South Asians: The Making of a Neo-Diaspora. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
• Kurien, Prema A. Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity; International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
• Leonard, Karen Isaksen. Locating Home: India's Hyderabadis Abroad. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007.
• Leonard, Karen Isaksen. Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi Mexican Americans. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
• Petievich, Carla, ed. The Expanding Landscape: South Asians and the Diaspora. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

Selected Bibliography of Oral History:
• Charlton, Thomas E., Lois E. Myers and Rebecca Sharpless, eds. Handbook of Oral History. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2006: 384-407.
• Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. • Crane, Susan A. “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory.” The American Historical Review 102: 5 (1997): 1372-1385.
• Frisch, Michael. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
• Gluck, Sherna and Daphne Patai. Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History. New York: Routledge, 1991.
• Larson, Mary. "Steering Clear of the Rocks: A Look at the Current State of Oral History Ethics in the Digital Age" Oral History Review 40: 1 (2013): 36-49.
• Murray, Alice Yang. “Oral History Research, Theory, and Asian American Studies.” Amerasia 26: 1 (2000): 105-118.
• Neuenschwander, John N. A Guide to Oral History and the Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
• Perks, Robert and Alistair Thomson. The Oral History Reader. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge Press, 2006.
• Portelli, Alessandro. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany: SUNY Press, 1991.
• Ritchie, Donald. Guidelines and Principles of the Oral History Association. Oral History Association, 1992.
• Rosengarten, Theodore. All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
• Shopes, Linda. “Oral History and the Study of Communities: Problems, Paradoxes, and Possibilities.” The Journal of American History 89: 2 (Sep. 2002): 588-598.
• Steinberg, Stephen. “The World Inside the Classroom: Using Oral History to Explore Racial and Ethnic Diversity.” The Social Studies, (March/April 1993): 71-73.
• Thompson, Paul. The Voice of the Past: Oral History. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
• Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, 1995.
• Yow, Valerie. “Do I Like Them Too Much?: Effects of the Oral History Interview on the Interviewer and Vice-Versa.” Oral History Review 24: 2 (1997): 55-78.