By Elijiah McGuire-Berk
The poet Alfred de Vigney once wrote, “On the day when man told the story of his life to man, history was born.” The students involved in StoryQuest through the C.V. Starr Center for the Amercan Experience understand the importance of personal stories and oral history. The program interviews the living participants in our American history, “from World War II veterans to Chesapeake watermen to participants in the Civil Rights movement,” according to the StoryQuest website.
Here The Elm interviews the student leaders who organize the program. Senior Rachel Brown could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
1. What do you think of your position as student leader?
Joseph Switt (JS): I am honored that the Starr Center asked me to continue with the StoryQuest project as a student leader. World War II has always fascinated me, and I am very excited to take an even more active role in uncovering more stories from that era.
Heidi Butler (HB) : I am very honored and grateful to have been chosen as a student leader for the project. I see the work that we do in StoryQuest as being incredibly important both for the educational experience of the students participating and for the community members to have their stories shared with others. The project allows bonds to be formed with people of different generations as today’s students learn from those who came before them. The students are also able to gain incredible skills in historical research and in interviewing that can be used in many other areas of life after WC. I love having the chance to lead the students in this pursuit and share and pass on the great experiences that I’ve had to a new group of incoming students.
Sarah Graff (SG):
I’m personally very excited over my position as Project Archivist. I am lucky enough to be able to work with the finished products of both teams led by Joseph and Heidi.
2. What do you do as a student leader?
JS: As leader of the interview team, I will be helping the new students prepare for and schedule their interviews. I will also be part of most of the interviews we do with people who were on the home front during World War II, as well as some veterans.
HB: I am the student leader for Team Artifacts, which focuses mostly around the collection and digitization of letters, documents, and physical items relating to World War II or that time period. As a student leader, I organize interview and collection times where the students on my team can meet with interviewees, both those who were interviewed last year and those who have not yet been interviewed.
I also will plan and host at least one “Scan-A-Thon” day at the Kent County Public Library where anyone in the community can come see us and bring with them anything that we can add to our digital collection. As a team leader, I also critique, encourage, and support my team members through their learning. I work closely with the people in charge of the project as a whole, Michael Buckley and Lani Seikaly, to keep track of and accomplish our goals for the semester.
SG: I’ll be working in the College Archives to digitize and store the interviews and artifacts on D-Space, which is an online archive that anyone with a WC log-in can access and do research from.
3. What are you looking forward to the most?
JS: We’ve heard so many fascinating stories already, so I am just looking forward to the new interviews because I know we’ll hear even more.
HB: Getting to know our new teams of students and being able to develop a strong group to carry out this project. Everyone brings something new to the table, and everyone comes to the project from a different background and perspective. In the process of interviewing community members, different information and stories will be discovered based on what the interviewers are curious about and want to know. This is why it is so exciting to add a brand new group of people to this project.
SG: I’m looking forward to the stories. They’re always my favorite. Listening to those old voices simply talk is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at WC.
4. Do you have any advice for fellow students who want to join StoryQuest?
JS: If you have an interest in World War II or just like talking to interesting people and collecting amazing artifacts, there’s no better opportunity than StoryQuest.
HB: The best advice that I can give to students who want to join StoryQuest is to just give it a try and be willing to step out of their comfort zones and put a lot into the project. It is likely a brand new experience for many students, and can be daunting to think about going out and interviewing strangers about such serious topics. However, the project is incredibly rewarding, and it is far less scary than it might seem. The more dedicated you are and the more time and energy you invest, the more rewarding the experience will be.
SG: Stop by the College Archives (located in the Basement of Miller Library) or the Customs House. Stop the student leaders featured in this article. Everyone who is a part of this program will happily share a story or a fond memory to even a complete stranger. Words alone can’t describe the project. The experiences that we have had the privilege to collect speak for themselves.
5. Is there anything else you would like to add?
HB: We need to learn from our past to understand ourselves, where we are today, and where we should be going. The urgency of learning about the World War II era is even stronger now, as those who were alive to experience that time are continuing to age, and if we don’t work to gather these stories and record them, they could be lost. By participating in this project, we are showing those who possess these stories that their experiences matter to us and that we want to be able to keep their stories available for people to learn from for years to come.
SG: Special Thanks to The Elm for keeping up with students. Part of the StoryQuest Project has been looking through past years of The Elm, and seeing what they captured during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It’s really wonderful.