Deborwah Faulk
Photo courtesy of Logan & Co. MUA

Telling it like it was

November 10, 2023


In professor Deborwah Faulk’s new class, students connect with stories of people like Jamala Rogers, whose mother grew up in extreme poverty.

In a video interview, Rogers recalled her mother saying she didn’t remember what her own mother looked like: “I said, `How is that possible?’ And she said, `Well, there’s no pictures.’ We need to pay attention to photographs and history and start trying to document this stuff for those who come after us.”

The interview appears on the website for The HistoryMakers, a nonprofit research and educational institution that hosts the nation’s largest videotaped oral history collection of Black Americans. Faulk has been awarded a 2023-24 Innovations in Pedagogy and Teaching Fellowship from the group to incorporate personal narratives like those of Rogers in her class The Sociology of Black Families.

“We're using the digital archive to think about the elements of family dynamics, life, and experiences,” said Faulk, a professor of sociology and Africana studies. “The archive contains thousands of oral histories, from not only well-known people, but everyday folks, too.”

The oral history videos provide a powerful learning tool to the classroom, she said.

“You can hear about the person’s experiences in their own words. You can see how they light up thinking about their relationship with their mother or how they have some nostalgia about their childhood home,” she said. “And some of these people are no longer with us, which makes the archives so special. We can capture and memorialize their life and their experiences.”

The videos help students connect to other generations and examine what has changed, or not, in the intervening years.

“The emphasis in the archive is on Black stories, and we know that those are often marginalized, hidden, and unavailable,” Faulk said. “Students find it exciting to be able to hear a perspective that they might not otherwise get.”

The interdisciplinary class draws from Black/African studies, sociology, psychology, and African American history and literature and explores family life through various media. Each week a student leads a class discussion on topics such as Black girlhood, health care, K-12 schools, neighborhoods, and for Thanksgiving, food and culture, sharing clips from the archives. Toward the end of the semester, students will create their own oral histories on topics of their choosing by conducting interviews with family or community members.

“I'm so excited to see how they're going to take what they've learned about the digital archive or the value of oral histories and make it their own,” Faulk said.