Digital History Project Proposal: Veteran Podcast

For my Digital Project, I would like to create a podcast where I interview several veterans to establish the experience of service members over several historical periods. I will ask veterans a series of questions and later frame the interviews around a narrative. I intend to make the podcast between 30-60 minutes and provide my audience with an outline of the questions, a list of further reading, and an outline of the podcast as reference. I intend compare the service of several veteran’s ranging from 20th to 21st century conflicts. Some themes I would like to address are: the backgrounds of veterans, the reasons veterans decided to serve, their active duty service, their opinions on war and how they adjusted to life after serving. My hope is to discover the ways in which veteran’s experiences remained similar throughout the 20th to 21st century and the ways in which veterans’ experiences are drastically different. Ideally, I will interview at least two to three people and record the interview via a Sony ICD-PX333 audio recorder. I will be sure to have the interviewee’s consent to record their story and utilize their recording. The interviewee can edit their interview and their consent will be recorded. I will archive all my materials in case I decide to post my project publicly.

A podcast will be the perfect tool to use for this project due to the amount assess it provides to an audience, the ease with which I can create it using tools I possess, and the editing and production value I can achieve using this medium. Veteran’s stories, especially those told in the veteran’s own words, are a valuable source not only for current audiences, but also future audiences who may not have the opportunity to interact with these veterans. In terms of archival usage, MP3 (which will likely be the format I will utilize) has been in continual use for 24 years, will likely be accessible for a long time. Also, MP3 can be easily accessed all over the world and via multiple media devices. My project is a primary source since it will utilize veteran’s own accounts of their experience but will also be secondary in its construction and the questions I will ask. The best public history practices are encapsulated in my project; open and easy accessibility (with the permission of my interview subjects), the use of audio and written word to present information, and a project tailored for a wide public audience. I intend to tailor my work towards military buffs, scholar, students and a general audience interested in the U.S. military, veteran’s affairs, and military service. A traditional project, which would either consist of a paper interview or an unedited and recorded interview, fails to capture the attention of a millennial audience wishing to digest quality-produced audio programming from smart phones and laptops. Also, It is important that veterans’ stories are told through their own spoken words; emotions are often lost in the simple transcription of words. The ability to produce a quality edited podcast also allows for the project to be professionally presented and properly tailored to a larger audience. Finally, traditional forms of media around interviewing are not as easy to access or archive digitally. It is my hope to use this veteran podcast not only as a narrative oral history project but also as a tool that may be used as both a primary and secondary source by future students and scholars.

Soldiers to Scholars: Veteran Relations and Digital History

The days of every American having a family member in the military are over—most of the public have grown further disconnected from the armed forces following a reduction of overall force at the end of World War II and, most importantly, the end of the draft in 1973. Today, less than one percent of the U.S. population serves in the armed forces (according to NPR’s “By the Numbers: Today’s Military”, published on July 3, 2001). Yet, we civilians and our representatives are asked to decide the fate of service members and veterans; should they be asked to put their lives and well-being in harm’s way for a cause? Is the sacrifice we ask of them just? Are we willing to support those have served our nation and its interests? Most importantly, to those who have never served and who don’t know anyone in the military; how has your view of military service been shaped? West Chester University’s Soldiers to Scholars website, a student-run history project in which members interview and document discussions with veterans from America’s 20-21st century conflicts, is a vital effort to connect the stories of veterans to the public. A human face and a story is given to many who served via this project in a way many other media depictions fail to provide.

Soldiers to Scholars is a digital history project by design. It records veteran’s stories and facilitates a connection between veterans, their interviewers, and the online viewer. The most important aspect of the project is its collaborative nature. Online viewers can comment on the project, contribute, and participate at various levels. What this project does well is include a reading list and documentaries to supplement the video interviews. The website also offers a long directory of other webpages to connect individuals to other history initiatives, such as Temple University’s CENFAD. The inclusion of a short blog and the commentary function  on this website allow for interested people to contribute to the project and post commentary about the content.

While the project is exemplary in many ways, it also has weaknesses. The website makes a point to notate the topics veterans discuss, however, it does not connect the viewer to these topics or connect topics to other veteran’s stories. It would also help the project to post the questions they asked veterans to the website directly. In addition, the members should consider making this website more interactive by expressing information via several modalities. The use of varied learning modalities is a point educational theorist Howard Gardner considers in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences; in layman’s terms, Gardner’s theory suggests people learn in different ways, therefore it is good to vary the ways you disseminate information.

To improve the project further, I would also suggest several additional changes. The recommended reading list would be greatly improved by adding readings and documentaries from all the conflicts of the 20-21st century. I would also push the authors involved to incorporate the interviews into a larger collection of primary sources. Links to documents, personal photographs, music, and connections to current depictions of conflicts would help the interactivity of the website and fulfill its greater purpose. The creators of the project should consider if they wish to simply present the information or if they wish to provide a format that inherently interprets of historical events and themes. However, a simpler improvement would be to categorize the interviews of veterans in a meaningful way to make the website more user friendly. Suggestions aside, Soldiers to Scholars is digital history at its best. Collaborative, open access, and a growing experience for all those involved.

*Note: While I speak of the project in the present tense, the project’s website has not been updated since 2011. It appears the organization has switched to using Facebook and YouTube.

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