Best Practices

I used Omeka as the platform to present this capstone project. Using Omeka allows a variety of media including  written narratives, the display of archival photographs and other images, a map of the location of the PHY little league fields (Rosedale Park), and excerpts of oral history video and audio recordings.  Photographs and images contextualize the narrative and offer insight on the importance of the Prospect Hill Yellow Jackets Athletic Club.

In addition to gathering various archival photographs, I photographed the little league and baseball fields that are still in use today at Rosedale Park. Using these photographs through Omeka help illustrate the importance baseball had while also showing the importance Rosedale Park and baseball has today.  Using a digital platform such as Omeka, allows the audience to view digitized images and listen to audio/video recordings which provide a broader, more personal experience than merely the printed word.

For the second half of my assistantship with Dr. Poyo, I focused on conducting oral histories, both for the capstone project as well as on the history of St. Mary’s University, specifically of my grandfather. To understand the theoretical side of oral histories, two journal articles were helpful as well as The Barrio Gangs of San Antonio, 1915 – 2015.  In the first journal article, Applying Principles of Historical Critique: Authentic Oral History?, Dr. Marietjie Oelofse discusses the challenges associated with conducting oral history interviews while also suggesting some techniques one can take to create and produce a successful interview.  For example, Dr. Oelofse mentions the importance of recognizing the interviewees “non-verbal behavior” such as eye contact, gestures, and voice quality.  These behaviors can help the narrator (i.e. interviewer) “steer” the interview, such as knowing when to ask follow-up questions, or approach a specific topic again at a later stage in the interview.  As Dr. Oelofse states, “a key aspect of oral history is the retrieving of memories of the people being interviewed and who are given a chance to convey their story.” When conducting oral histories, memory plays a key role and can often be a challenge. I found this to be particularly true when interviewing Reynaldo Nerio Sr., who is 94 years old and alumnus of St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1950, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Mr. Nerio is my grandfather.  While this was the second interview, it became evident during the latter stages of the interview, he was becoming fatigued and struggling to articulate answers to questions, for example, his non-verbal behavior, such as his eyes closing, head tilted downward, and hands slowly tapping the table endeavoring to select the right words for a succinct response.

In the second journal article, Reflections on the use of Oral History Techniques in Social Research, the topic of memory is once again discussed as well as interview relationships. The author, Elaine Batty recalls her experiences of conducting an oral history of her mother as part of her master’s degree. Oral histories and written documents are both important sources of information but uniquely different. Oral histories present a source of information that is delivered differently than a written document yet, relies heavily on memory. Therefore, the validity of the interview may come into question. Written documents on the other hand have traditionally been favored among historians when researching historical people, places, and events. However, in the public history field what was once previously believed and researched such as, for example, the role of the Texas Rangers, written documents can be biased and inaccurate. Batty goes on to argue in her article that oral histories are a valid form of research but must be used appropriately to ensure reliable and accurate data. While trust is important when conducting oral histories, Batty explains that trust does not always need to be present in “intimate interviewee interviewer relations.” From my perspective, in the interviews of Willie Chacon and Johnny Zepeda, two former little league players with the Prospect Hill Yellow Jackets during the 1960’s whose fathers served as coaches and officers for the athletic club, I found Batty’s argument to be true. To set up an interview with Chacon and Zepeda, I simply made a “cold call.” There was no immediate trust in place, however both were enthusiastic and happy to help in any way they could. Their energy and enthusiasm from that time in their lives emerged swiftly and clearly. This reinforced my understanding of the profound importance of the PHY.

At the conclusion of my assistantship, I had conducted five oral histories, collected information on the Prospect Hill Yellow Jackets Athletic Club, and gained additional experience, knowledge, and confidence in conducting oral histories.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, conducting oral histories proved to be a challenge.  Since many of the interviewees were not familiar with Zoom (an on-line video conference tool) and/or did not have access to a computer, a flexible schedule was key in order to make things easy for them. Face masks were worn throughout the interview and six-foot distance was maintained. This experience is a phenomenon unique to today and something historians conducting oral histories have not had to contend with in the past.

The quality of any oral history depends on several key things including the strength of the interviewer, the ability to recall memories from the interviewee, and being alert to any biases, contradictions, or inconsistencies in the interviewee’s answers. It is important for the interviewer to be confident and prepared with questions to make sense of past experiences. For example, interviews were conducted with individuals whose experiences occurred nearly fifty years ago. As I demonstrated knowledge of the subject and set the interviewees at ease, information flowed. It seemed an emotion was touched as interviewees re-lived their childhood and reflected on the profound impact the experience had on their lives. Oral histories provide a personal and reliable form of research that give a voice to people who may otherwise be overlooked.   

Best Practices