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Mulberry Street, New York City

[Detail] Mulberry Street, New York City

Letter distributed to parents at Open House night:

September 24, 1997

Dear Parents:

In addition to the regular curriculum of the subfreshman history program, there is a special oral history feature. This experience is designed to give students a hands-on sense of how history is constructed and how they, acting as the historians, are able to manage and control the information they obtain.

In the past, oral history interviews have focused on African-American quilters, survivors of the Holocaust, and University High School alums as the school celebrated its 75th anniversary. Each collection of interviews became a final product including a museum guide cassette that accompanied a quilt exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum and an audio tape that was aired on WILL AM to recall the Holocaust on its April observance day.

This year, we are focusing on Immigration. We are interested in the stories of people living in East Central Illinois and their decision to move here from another part of the world. The final product, we hope, is another audio tape which WILL AM has already agreed to air on May 1st -- Law Day -- a day on which many immigrants formally become citizens of the U.S.

We are fortunate this year to pilot some enriched features to the oral history piece as a result of an institute we attended this summer at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. We were selected as one of twenty-five teams from across the country to review the American Memory Collection, a vast resource of digitized American history primary source materials. Each team at the Institute was charged to develop and pilot a teaching unit in our respective school settings that would then be made available to other teachers, encouraging them to utilize the collections based on these twenty-five models.

Our project is focusing on the photo collections of the Detroit Publishing Company and oral histories of the WPA writers program that the Library of Congress has digitized and made available online. We saw images and read stories that really fired our imaginations. Our planning, thus far, has really elevated a rather simple project into one with many facets and directions. We can only hope that the feedback from the students will move us into even more challenging possibilities for analyzing and utilizing primary sources.

While working with primary sources is indeed exciting, we are fully aware that some sources reveal attitudes and perceptions about immigrants that are not complimentary. Rather than shield students from this information, we've decided to confront the issues of prejudice and stereotype thinking and help them understand the context and motivation for such statements. If you and/or your student have any unease about this approach, please feel free to discuss the matter with us.

We look forward to sharing more of this project with you as we get closer to implementation. No doubt you will be hearing quite a lot about it from your son/daughter in the near future.

Yours truly,

Barbara Wysocki
History Instructor
[email protected]

Frances Jacobson
[email protected]