“A Community of Stories” – Ninth Graders Learn History from In-Depth Interviews

This Fall as a kickoff to the school year, students in Jackie Scully’s ninth grade U.S. History class along with some other ninth grade U.S. History classes learned how to study history by conducting interviews and collecting stories, connecting to different time periods in the country’s history. She framed the project with a quote from Clifford Geertz, a prominent anthropologist, who defined culture as “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.”

Students were required to interview people they knew, perhaps grandparents or older friends, thinking especially about those who may wish to have someone to tell their stories to. They brainstormed questions for their subjects, and were encouraged to prompt them with open-ended questions that encouraged longer narrative answers about their lived experiences. Once their interview framework was complete, students conducted and recorded the interviews. They then wrote reflections about their interviews. Ms. Scully included her own interview with her father, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, in the class slideshow as well. 

“How we study history, collecting stories connected to important events, and learning about different perspectives is the foundation of learning history,” said Ms. Scully. “It’s not about memorizing facts, but understanding our experiences and the impact it leaves.” She was quick to credit the idea to recently retired MFS History Teacher Eliza McFeely who created the project in the Spring of 2020 for her U.S. History classes. Ms. Scully changed the assignment slightly but “wanted to carry on her wonderful project.”

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