Famous Lost Words: Recording and Preserving Oral History

A longtime journalist visits Randolph with advice for juniors who are embarking on their I Search projects in Jennifer Rossuck's class.
A rite of passage for juniors in Jennifer Rossuck's English class is the I Search, an extensive research project into of subject of the students' choosing that requires conducting interviews as part of their research.

So who better to share his advice and experience than Maurice Gandy, whom Rossuck brought to the Garth Lecture Hall recently under the auspices of the Alabama Humanities Foundation Road Scholar Speaker series. Gandy has been part of the series since 2005. He has decades of experience as an oral history feature correspondent for the Mobile Press-Register, and as a journalism, literature and creative writing instructor at Bishop State College in Mobile. He continues to teach American Literature and senior-level technical writing as an adjunct English instructor at the University of South Alabama.

He is passionate about the stories, anecdotes and legends within families and communities that can easily be lost when storytellers pass on. His presentation, "Famous Lost Words: Recording and Preserving Oral History,” urged his Randolph student audience to share that passion and to use basic techniques of interviewing and recording to save the human side of their family and community legacy. He regaled them with some of his own adventures, from stumbling across previously unknown film footage of Charles Lindburgh taking off in the Spirit of St. Louis to aiding a last minute rescue of a plaque commemorating a major policy speech that President Woodrow Wilson gave in Mobile in 1913. "Building trust with your interview subjects is crucial," he advised, "but if you can get them to relax, you'll often be amazed by where your conversations can go."

Accompanying Gandy was one of his USA students, Morgan Parton, who talked about conducting a research project of her own into the German POW camp that was located during World War II in the tiny West Alabama town of Aliceville. Parton has relatives there, including a grandmother, whose memories of the camp she culled through interviews with them.

Gandy concluded the session by passing out information about oral history Internet sites, including what he termed the "invaluable" Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History compiled by Judith Moyer. For Gandy, the personally fulfilling challenge of oral history is to "preserve it or lose it! And the time to start is now."