Digitizing the Appalachian Oral History Project: Engaging Students through Project-Based Learning in the Digital Humanities

The Appalachian Oral History Project (AOHP) was begun in 1973 and developed through a consortium involving Emory & Henry College, Appalachian State University, Alice Lloyd College, and Lees Junior College. Over many years, students and faculty conducted and recorded personal interviews with thousands of citizens across the Appalachian region. The project created a trove of data for scholars in multiple disciplines interested in studying and researching the region and its history and culture. Approximately 3,000 such interviews were collected, with most of them being conducted, recorded, and transcribed by students. Emory & Henry’s share of the AOHP includes well over 1,000 audio tapes and printed transcripts. To ensure the long-term preservation of the audio files and transcripts and to make the collection accessible to students and scholars, the Appalachian Center for Civic Life (ACCL) at Emory & Henry has embarked on a project to create a digital collection of the material that will be fully accessible, searchable, and made widely available online.

This paper describes plans to integrate this effort into the learning objectives of multiple courses within the Civic Innovation major and across the College curriculum. Recognizing the concept of place as an intertwined relationship between the natural environment, the built environment, and the human culture and history, the major in Civic Innovation provides an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of public life in the development of innovative solutions to civic issues and problems. In addition to creating an accessible, professionally-developed digital collection that preserves important historical material, the project will enhance students’ conception of civic memory and civic life and provide a chance to engage in valuable, long-term, and hands-on scholarship while gaining vital experience in preparation for either graduate school or the professional world. The creation of the collection and the resulting digital repository will offer enormous potential for both student research and projects and for more widespread scholarly work related to the Appalachian region.