By SUZANNE KESLER RUMSEY, Ph.D.
Suzanne is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW), where she teaches technical writing, multimedia, and family history writing.
In a spring 2009 course on family history writing and service learning, students wrote portions of their own family history and then worked to help write an historical book for the Cottage Lake History Project. Data collected from student-participants and members of the organization revealed themes of collaboration, reflection, and reciprocity. These themes articulate the correlation between service learning and family history writing as well as shed light on what family history is and how service learning can be used in other historical, family based, and localized research projects. This article argues that a prototype course with small, seemingly insignificant, local efforts, such as working with our own families or working with two members of a little-known historical project, have immense value for long-term sustainability.
During the spring semester, I taught a senior/graduate level writing course on writing family history that incorporated a service learning component. During the first half of the 16-week semester, students researched and wrote on their own family histories, using various qualitative research methods and fieldwork guidelines for archival research at the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center (ACPL). In the second half of the semester, the course shifted to helping a local organization called the Cottage Lake History Project (CLHP). Cottage Lake is about an hour from our campus. The previous fall, two members contacted me for consulting advice on how to proceed with their large collection of interviews, images, and folklore from the lake’s inhabitants. They wanted to create a text of the lake’s history from the late 19th century through the 1960s. Students constructed research binders and narratives based on the data that CLHP members gave them. They organized and expanded the existing archive in order for future writers to more easily write the text. Continue reading