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Library of Congress partners with Clemson students to collect veterans’ oral histories


A group of students works with Library of Congress representatives to record a veteran's interview
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Representatives from the Library of Congress recently visited Clemson University to work with students on how to interview veterans and record their stories. The visit was part of Clemson’s ongoing partnership with the Library through the Veterans’ Oral History Project, in which Clemson students record interviews with veterans and submit those recordings to the Library for their archives.

The Creative Inquiry project started in 2012 and has submitted 170 oral history recordings to the Library of Congress for their Veterans History Project (VHP), an initiative to collect and preserve first-hand accounts of U.S. military veterans. Clemson has been the most active college or university involved with the project to date.

“Clemson has a long-standing, proud military history and strives to preserve it. Clemson and VHP also have a long-standing history together and Clemson represents the exact model of what we are looking for in a university partner,” said Travis Bickford, head of program coordination and communications for the VHP. “We’re looking forward to growing this relationship further so it can be a replicable model for other universities to work with us in the future.”

Bickford visited Clemson along with Andrew Huber, liaison specialist for the VHP. They worked with students on interview techniques and conducted an interview with a veteran to give students a chance to see best practices in action.

“Clemson has been one of the collegiate leaders in the VHP. It’s one of the only universities in the country that has a class dedicated to veterans’ oral histories,” said Huber. “Getting students involved in this work is important because they have a perspective that not everyone else has. They’re curious and eager to learn more. They have good inquiring minds.”

Nolan Wilbur, a freshman microbiology major, is one of the students involved with the project this year. He was looking for a Creative Inquiry project to join and thought the veterans history project sounded interesting and meaningful. He has interviewed four veterans so far, with plans to interview more. He said that it is exciting to think that people hundreds of years in the future might be listening to his interviews through the Library of Congress. 

“We just ask them about everything. We want to know about their relationships, life on the base, anything and everything,” he said.

Wilbur said that he is learning a lot from the project that he thinks will help him in the future, even though he is not a history major.

“I’ve learned a lot about how important connections and networking are. Once I had a relationship with one veteran, it opened the door to meeting so many others,” he said. “I think my people skills have also increased, through learning to talk to people about difficult subjects.”

The project is led by faculty mentors Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Professor of History, and Josh Catalano, assistant professor of history. Burton has worked with the project for years and will pass the torch to Catalano after he retires.

“I am excited about Josh coming on board and continuing the project after I retire,” Burton said. “Our students become expert oral historians and learn to do research in preparation for interviews. Josh’s training as a public historian is a perfect fit to lead this project.”

“Oral histories allow students to engage with our history in a very personal and transformative way,” said Catalano. “Not only are students helping to preserve the past, but they are developing relationships with these veterans that extend beyond this project. Because our program trains students to conduct oral histories, students from any academic major or background are encouraged to help us honor the service of these veterans by preserving their experiences. In the process, these student interviewers learn how to listen deeply and realize the power of a story.”

To view the oral histories captured by Clemson students over the years, visit the Clemson Veterans Project website. The website was funded by a gift from Clemson alumnus and Army veteran Lt. Col. Jason Pike

About Creative Inquiry + Undergraduate Research
Creative Inquiry + Undergraduate Research
 combines experiential learning, multi-disciplinary interactions and team-based research. Since it began in 2005, more than 55,000 students from every major have participated in Creative Inquiry projects.

Today, approximately 2,800 students participate in Creative Inquiry each semester, exploring a wide range of topics. Projects typically last for multiple semesters, allowing students and faculty to dive deeper as they tackle tough questions and search for solutions to life’s challenges.

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