Doing Oral History with Vietnam War Veterans

I believe the way we are now had its beginnings in Vietnam. If we can unpack Vietnam, we may be able to unpack the kind of divisions we have now

Ken Burns, in Julie Hinds, “Ken Burns Coming to Ann Arbor to Preview Epic Vietnam Series”, Detroit Free Press online Published 11:01 p.m. ET April 15, 2017

The generation who passed through the war are only ready now to have this kind of conversation,

Lynn Novick co-director of The Vietnam War, in Fiachra Gibbons, “Ken Burns Tackles Vietnam War in 'Visceral' 18-Hour TV History,” L’Agence France Press (AFP) online. Published April 2, 2017 AFP

When students shrug their shoulders and don’t seem to care about a topic of study, it’s likely they lack historical empathy. When students empathize with persons or historical figures from the past, they come to understand the past in a personally meaningful and memorable way.

Bringing in primary sources, such as oral histories, to supplement the textbook is essential, and oral histories are a particularly valuable tool for cultivating historical empathy and nurturing a sense of caring among students. Oral history makes history personal!

The purpose of this lesson is to bring the Vietnam War to life through student-led interviews with Vietnam veterans. Students will practice research, critical thinking, and inquiry and interpretation skills while producing their own primary sources. In this lesson, the oral history process has been brUoken down into a series of steps, each with links to an oral history toolkit, teacher notes, and student worksheets. By following these steps, students will interact with a historical figure in an engaging and exciting way, making history come alive for them and their classmates. 

Throughout the lesson, there are links to sections of the Oral History Toolkit, prepared by Dr. Barry Lanham.

Guiding Questions

How did the Vietnam War affect the soldiers who fought in it?

How can oral history be used to learn about the past?

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to: Describe in detail the steps in the oral history process

Give an account of their research for the oral history interview

Describe the oral history interview

Explain and evaluate a student developed oral history interview