Collection Location: Dreyfuss Library, St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Potomac, Maryland
Collection Overview: Each year students in St. Andrew's AP U.S. History and America in the Twentieth Century classes select an individual of no relation to interview about a particular period or event of the American Century. This project is teaching some of the next generation of Marylanders how to be historians who create a useable sense of the past. St. Andrew's students have documented first hand accounts of such historical topics as various wars, civil rights, the American Dream, and education. These interviews offer a unique view of some of America's historical events explored by the inquiring minds of Maryland's future generation.
The American Century Project is a collection of oral histories completed by students at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, in their junior year of high school. Oral history is an historical method that uses recorded interviews to preserve firsthand memories, accounts, and interpretations of a person’s life, an event, a place, a way of life, or period. Introduced at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, by History teacher Glenn Whitman in 1997, the American Century Project trains students to understand the challenges associated with oral history as a historical methodology as well as providing the students a chance to collect and preserve a primary source. For his work on the American Century Project, Whitman won the Pre-collegiate Oral History Teaching Award in 1997.
For their projects, students are responsible for selecting an individual of no relation to interview about a particular period or event in American history. They then develop a short biography (with photograph) that provides a sense of the interviewee’s background and a context for understanding the place of the interview in each person’s life. After securing an interviewee, students are responsible for a research paper that examines primary and secondary source documents, creating a context for better understanding the interview. Prior to the interview, students use their research to formulate a logically ordered set of questions that are refined during a conference with the teacher. Each interview lasts approximately one hour. Following the interview, students transcribe the recording. After the transcription, students analyze the strengths and weaknesses of oral history as a historical methodology in a historical analysis paper. They determine where their interview fits into the existing primary and secondary sources that they examined in their historical contextualization and how it might add or detract from an overall understanding of the American past. Students examine questions as to whether their interview was biased, if it shed new light on a particular period or event, and whether or not it complements or contradicts their research. They also examine their own biases as historians and consider how their place in time might foster certain questions and responses.
Students submit two bound copies of their project as well as their interview tapes. One bound copy is archived in the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School Archives while the other is graded and returned. The bound copy includes a statement of purpose, biography and photograph, historical contextualization, transcription, historical analysis, and works consulted page. At the end of the project students must present their interview to a general audience that includes their interviewees at the Annual Oral History Coffee House. This event celebrates the work of the student oral historians and the lives of those they interviewed. Over the years, students have transformed their interviews into poster exhibits, one-act plays, PowerPoint presentations, and even an interpretive dance.
The purpose of the American Century Project is to bring to light a wide tapestry of perspectives that help to define the American experience with prominent and lesser-known individuals. The St. Andrew’s Episcopal School American Century Project forms the largest collection of archived pre-collegiate oral history projects in the country. To learn more about these oral histories please get in touch with the Dreyfuss Library at the St. Andrew's Episcopal School at 301-983-5200.
Collection overview prepared by Alexandra (Lexi) Heywood and Glenn Whitman of the St. Andrew's Episcopal School.