History: Posts

Author Interview: Christine K. Lemley

We caught up with Christine Lemley to discuss her book, Practicing Critical Oral History. Read on for our exclusive interview to find out what inspired Christine to write the book.

Christine Lemley

Why did this book need to be written and how is it different from other books in the field?

This book provides insight on how to conduct critical oral histories. Critical Oral History (COH) has both similarities with and differences from traditional oral history. COH is committed to recording first-hand knowledge of experiences with the additional goals of revealing power differences and inequities in order to promote social and cultural transformational outcomes. Traditional oral historians use a value-neutral approach to recording experiences that critical oral historians believe is neither needed nor desired. COH uses (1) critical inquiry, (2) community-based accountability and (3) transformational outcomes to frame the projects and draws on (a) reflexivity, (b) relationality, (c) responsibility, (d) respect and (e) reciprocity to engage in meaningful ways. Together these frames promote agency and value historically marginalized community members’ stories (e,g., people of color, women, LGBT populations, youth and the elderly) that are often unheard or untold in order to validate and act on these stories in order to counter dominant power structures.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

The book provides suggestions for how educators and community activists could use COH in their classrooms and communities to put their students and the voices of people from marginalized populations at the center of their curriculum to enact change. COH writes and rights history so that students may be writers of history and, by adding the voices and perspectives of people who have been historically silenced, students also serve as historians participating in a righting of history. COH focuses on a method of telling stories of people whose experiences are not often told or go unheard and then uses these stories to promote transformational change. Participating in COH curriculum, students and community members from positions of privilege become aware of their privilege and begin to see how stories are often included within dominant, Western-oriented narratives of power. Simultaneously, students and community members from historically marginalized positions see the stories of their community, often ignored in educational contexts, valued. All students and community members benefit from COH’s collective process of (a) identifying how and why stories are told and untold, (b) promoting awareness of perpetuated inequities and (c) taking action. Through this process, COH aims to empower students, community members and participants to determine ways to tell these stories and advocate for themselves and others in marginalized positions.

How did you become interested in this topic?

As a social justice educator, I became interested in creating a way for educators and community members to guide students and learners to answer the following questions: 1) how do we expose community members to the multiple historical and contemporary truths of injustices in the world and 2) how do we simultaneously make our curriculum, classroom practice and community work hopeful, joyful, kind, and visionary? I propose COH curriculum as one way to engage all of these critical aspects. I began presenting COH projects to my teacher education students in all content areas when I saw them understanding core principles of culture and inequity while at the same time struggling to apply them to practice. I wanted to provide them with ways and words to engage their students meaningfully in disrupting a status quo that privileges few and disadvantages many. COH provides theory and practice to begin this work.

Describe your current work or next big project.

Currently, I am compiling sample COH curriculum from community members, education students training to be teachers, and practicing teachers; they have implemented COH projects with learners from about 12 to 18 years old (grades 6-12). I am hopeful that these sample curricula may inspire educators and community activists to integrate COH curriculum in their own work. Simultaneously, I’m writing a manuscript about the lived experiences of people moving to and living in Crawford, Grant, Richland, and Vernon Counties, four rural counties in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin, between 1965-1985. “We could re-create ourselves,” one participant explained. How was that possible and why was this needed? This is what stories from this study illuminate.


What is the one sentence takeaway you’d like to leave readers with?

Practicing Critical Oral History: Connecting School and Community provides theory and practice for educators and community activists to guide learners to put the voices of people from marginalized populations at the center of their curriculum to enact change.

About the book

Practicing Critical Oral History

Practicing Critical Oral History

Connecting School and Community

By Christine K. Lemley

Practicing Critical Oral History: Connecting School and Community provides ways and words for educators to use critical oral history in their classroom and communities in order to put their students and the voices of people from marginalized communities at the center of their curriculum to enact change.

Clearly and concisely written, this book offers a thought-provoking overview of how to use stories from those who have been underrepresented by dominant systems to identify a critical topic, engage with critical processes, and enact critical transformative-justice outcomes. Critical oral history both writes and rights history, so that participants—both interviewers and narrators—in critical oral history projects aim to contextualize stories and make the voices and perspectives of those who have been historically marginalized heard and listened to.