The AHA Tuning Project and the “We Also Built Stockton” Website

My project is a digital collection of oral history interviews completed in the 1980s of Stockton immigrant women accompanied by teaching tools. I aim to align my project with the core competencies and learning outcomes outlined by the American Historical Association’s (AHA) Tuning Project (2016). The project works to bring historians together “to spell out the distinctive skills, methods, and substantive range” of the field and to “harmonize or “tune” the core goals of their discipline and the curricula that support those goals on each participating campus.”[1]

Below I outline how “We Also Built Stockton: Experiences of Immigrant Women in Stockton, California,” will align with the learning outcomes developed by the AHA. The categories are those in the AHA Tuning Project.

Students who visit the site will:

1. Build historical knowledge.

a. Gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.

Students will be asked to interact with several of the interviews.  They will put the interviews in conversation with each other and research women’s history and immigration history to describe the context of the women’s experiences. 

b. Recognize how humans in the past shaped their own unique historical moments and were shaped by those moments.

Students will reflect on the uniqueness of the individual woman’s experience and the way that it relates to others. They will describe how the women and their families made choices within the confines of US immigration law and women’s social and cultural status in the US and in immigrant cultures.

2. Develop historical methods.

a. Recognize history as an interpretive account of the human past—one that historians create in the present from surviving evidence.

As Lévesque notes, “to think historically is thus to understand how knowledge has been constructed and what it means.”[2] Oral history is especially useful in aiding students of history to see how various accounts (primary and secondary) differ. Students will be asked to think through the pros and cons of using oral history as evidence.  What questions are asked? Who asked the questions? Did the interviewer follow up on difficult subjects? How well did the person remember? Who is available to ask?[3]

One assignment suggestion in the website will further student understanding of the construction of historical knowledge by having them create their own oral history interviews of immigrants.

b. Collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material.

Although the interviews will already be collected for students, thought questions will ask them to sift through information in several interviews, question what people meant in the interviews, synthesize the interviews into summary statements, and offer interpretations.

c. Practice ethical historical inquiry that makes use of and acknowledges sources from the past as well as the scholars who have interpreted that past.

One assignment can ask students to think through the ethical collection of and uses of oral histories.  This can include a discussion of IRB definitions of human subjects as well as more general questions about scholars who benefit from the sources more marginalized people leave behind.

d. Develop empathy toward people in the context of their distinctive historical moments.

Assignment questions will ask students to describe and reflect upon immigrant women’s choices and why they made them.

3. Recognize the provisional nature of knowledge, the disciplinary preference for complexity, and the comfort with ambiguity that history requires.

b. Describe past events from multiple perspectives.

The interviews present the voices of women of different ages, class backgrounds, education levels, and 25 different ethnic groups.  Students will be asked to describe interviews of women from different backgrounds and how their backgrounds helped shape their experiences.  Such work may disrupt common assumptions of a singular “immigrant woman’s experience.”

4. Apply the range of skills it takes to decode the historical record because of its incomplete, complex, and contradictory nature.

a. Consider a variety of historical sources for credibility, position, perspective, and relevance.

Students will consider the credibility of an interview, thinking through the reason it was created, describing the position and perspective of the interviewer and the narrator, and corroborating the contents with other interviews and resources on the history of immigration, US women, and Stockton. They will then discuss the interview’s importance for understanding immigrant women’s history.

c. Revise analyses and narratives when new evidence requires it.

An assignment will provide a passage from a popular US women’s history textbook and ask students to evaluate it and possibly rewrite it given their exploration of women’s interviews.

5. Create historical arguments and narratives.

a. Generate substantive, open-ended questions about the past and develop research strategies to answer them.

Students can write their own research questions based on reading 1 or 2 interviews.

6. Use historical perspective as central to active citizenship.

a. Apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues.

An assignment may ask students to find a current event about immigration or migration and to use the interviews to reflect on the differences and similarities in the experiences of immigrants across time.  They should explain how specific laws and attitudes shape those experiences.

[1]  Anne Hyde, AHA History Tuning Project: 2016 History Discipline Core, American Historical Association.

[2] Lévesque, Thinking Historically, 27, quoted in Kelly.

[3] For oral history methodology, see Judy Yung, “’A Bowlful of Tears’ Revisted: The Full Story of Lee Puey You’s Immigration Experience at Angel Island,” 25 Frontiers 1 (2004) and Sharon Ann Mush Er, “The Other Slave Narratives: The Works Progress Administration Interviews,” in John Ernest, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative. NY: Oxford UP, 2014. 101-118.

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