The Pace University 9/11 Oral History Project
Historian Maria T. Iacullo-Bird, Ph.D. began teaching at Pace University in 2002 and during that same year, she started to volunteer as an interviewer for the Columbia University September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project. Given the direct impact of the World Trade Center attack on the university, she thought that Pace University faculty, staff and students should have the opportunity to document and give voice to that traumatic experience in a way that could provide special insight and knowledge about 9/11 from a Pace perspective. She conceptualized this oral history project as an undergraduate research course and believed students also should have the option to interview those living and working near Pace who had experienced 9/11. She received early encouragement from the Center for Community Action and Research (CCAR) at Dyson College. Through the Project Pericles Program based at CCAR, Dr. Iacullo was awarded funding to support her attendance at Columbia University’s Summer Institute on Oral History, “Telling Lives: Memory, Orality and Testimony in Oral History,” from June 16-27, 2003, that served to deepen her knowledge of oral history. The Pforzheimer Honors College was interested in seeing the course designated as an Honors offering and provided the project with tape recorders and cassettes. The Dyson College History Department encouraged Dr. Iacullo to submit a course proposal and syllabus for review.
After receiving the necessary approvals, in 2004 Dr. Iacullo offered special topics history course HIS113P Introduction to Public History: Pace University 9/11 Oral History Project for the first time as an honors class. She designed this course to meet the new university undergraduate core requirements in category “Area of Knowledge #1” in civic engagement and public values. The course was offered two more times--once in 2005 and for a final semester in 2006--without the honors designation to make the course available to more students. Over 90 interviews in total were produced by these three classes of undergraduate students.
In anticipation of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, for the 2011 year a Provost Grant for the Thinkfinity Initiative is funding the major portion of the second digital phase of the Pace 9/11 Oral History Project. The primary goals of this phase are to convert to digital format the collection of oral interviews that consist overwhelmingly of audio recordings and with only several videos. This conversion will make them not only better preserved but accessible to a larger audience as both a source of research information and as an important vehicle of remembrance. For this purpose, Dr. Iacullo applied for the Thinkfinity grant with Pace University Archivist Ellen Sowchek and the Seidenberg School’s Dr. Jennifer Thomas who are project collaborators possessing archival and technological expertise.
The Pace University 9/11 Oral History Website Launch on September 12, 2011 is both a commemoration of September 11, 2001 and a recognition of student research activities that, in this instance, make original contributions to knowledge regarding a watershed historical event.
Methodology and Scope
The Pace 9/11 Oral History Project was conceived as an undergraduate public history course designed to integrate community-based learning and civic engagement with the discipline of history. Students were introduced to the content areas of public history and oral history while deepening and broadening their knowledge of September 11, 2001. They also studied the meaning of civic engagement through readings in history, literature and political theory. For the once-a-week class sessions, collaboration among students was fostered through small group assignments that included pairing students to critique interview practicums. Students engaged in experiential community-based learning by interviewing individuals who had witnessed September 11, 2001 in New York City either in their connection to Pace University or as members of the larger public. Interview instructions specified that students document “the 9/11 experiences of individuals affiliated with, or living and/or working near Pace University in the context of their life narratives.” In addition to the 9/11 experience, universal themes and on-going struggles that continued to figure significantly in contemporary life were addressed in the interviews. The Pace Centennial Year of 2006 underscored the importance of interviewing members of the Pace community.
The sensitive nature of the course also required some special preparations. Letters introducing the project from Dr. Iacullo were presented to interviewees. Legal releases approved by Pace Legal Counsel were required of project participants. Recognizing that relaying information might evoke some emotion, Dr. Richard Shadick, Director of the Pace Counseling Center, worked with Dr. Iacullo to compose and approve a counseling letter that also was distributed to participants to inform them of the availability of counseling services at Pace. Reliable and responsible research standards were further demonstrated through consultation with the Pace Institutional Review Board.
Each student was required to locate two individuals to interview subject to instructor approval. The students then arranged and conducted the interviews, made the first transcription of the interviews, obtained the required releases, and completed journals and the final paper. With the understanding that their work would contribute to the developing body of information regarding 9/11, the students anticipated their interviews, as original contributions to knowledge, eventually would be made available to a wider audience.
For the current digital phase that commenced in January 2011, the Pace University 9/11 Oral History Research Project has been based at the Dyson College Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE). Like the early HIS113P classes, the project continues to be based in Dyson, but has welcomed student participants from other schools and a range of majors. Archivist Sowchek has made Pace archival materials available for scanning and uploading into the website. She also has provided the project with a timeline to give important context to the interviews. For Spring 2011, Dr. Thomas directed her undergraduate students in her CIS 102 Web Design for Non-Profits to design a website for the Pace University 9/11 Oral History Project that would feature the oral history interviews and the archival materials. Dr. Iacullo and Archivist Sowchek visited the class several times during the course of the semester to provide input and direction to the website design.
The Thinkfinity grant funded the purchase of hardware and software to digitally convert and store the interviews, and two student assistants who committed themselves to the year-long project. These Thinkfinity-funded student assistants have become the Pace 9/11 Undergraduate Research Project Student Co-Managers. This digital phase requires from them advanced technological skills, excellent command of the English language and a high tolerance for detail-oriented work. Recent Dyson College graduate Joseph I. Bird who now is enrolled in the Master of Public Administration Program at Pace is the Project Webmaster. Once the web design course concluded in May, he fine-tuned the design to function as a viable website while uploading materials to it.
Current Lubin student Maria Elena Rubino oversees project data entry, inventory and transcription-checking of interviews. Routinely, oral history projects retain the use of professional copy editors for transcription needs. Since the Pace 9/11 Oral History Project has been a student undertaking, to ensure the greatest accuracy in the transcriptions, a protocol has been instituted in this digital phase in which one of the student assistants proofs the original transcript--essentially giving it a second review--and a third and final check is being performed by Dr. Iacullo.
Since many transcriptions average about 20-25 pages and checking is a slow and careful process, additional student support was funded by the Pace University Community and Volunteer Mobilization AmeriCorps Program through its non-profit capacity building component. This third student assistant is Seidenberg’s Emuobonuvie E. Eshareturi who provides both web and transcription support. Dyson College Undergraduate Summer Research funds also supported a fourth student assistant. For summer 2011, Dyson’s Breanna Romaine-Guiliano has aided in the checking of transcriptions. Norma Quiridumbay, who manages CURE’s operations, oversees student hours for the project.
Experiential Learning and Community Service
Introduced in 2003, the Pace Undergraduate Core Curriculum is structured to provide coverage of Areas of Knowledge (AOK) that includes AOK#1 civic engagement and public values courses that emphasize the responsibilities of citizenship with community engagement and the integration of service with both experiential and academic learning. This requirement prompted Dr. Iacullo to develop the special topics course HIS113P: The 9/11 Oral History Project as an example of a history offering that could satisfy this curricular innovation.
By focusing on the New York Pace community and environs within the context of the 9/11 catastrophe, HIS 113P provided students with an informed awareness of recent history and present-day issues and conflicts in American life and the world-at-large. Public value was based in students’ central role as interviewers and researchers. Student work was critical in creating a historical record of the events of 9/11 within the life narratives of participants. Their work also contributed to the institutional history of Pace University and history of 9/11 in New York City. At the conclusion of the course, students presented their work to class members and interested members of the Pace community. This public presentation worked to underscore the civic value of student work in this course. The digital phase of the project continues this commitment to civic engagement and public values through the dissemination of information to a larger public audience.
The Pace University 9/11 Oral History Project is an undergraduate research project supervised by faculty and staff mentors. One distinguishing aspect of this 9/11 interview archive and website is that it is wholly the result of student research efforts.
In recent years Dyson College has placed increasing emphasis on creating a broad-based culture of research showcasing scholarly and creative activity that includes undergraduate research across a wide range of fields. Through undergraduate research students learn first-hand how new knowledge is created and utilized. Undergraduate research is one of the high-impact practices outlined by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU). Undergraduate research experiences routinely require sustained and intensive faculty mentoring that increase undergraduate achievement and retention. Through research opportunities, students acquire strong analytic and reasoning abilities and advance their oral and written communication skills. Additionally, students are part of or develop projects that can work to clarify career goals, enhance their graduate or professional school applications and contribute to their future areas of professional specialization.
To foster the growth of undergraduate research, Dyson College has supported new initiatives built upon the long-standing legacy of the Society of Fellows, the premiere honors organization in the College for thirty years and the undergraduate research opportunities embedded in the curriculum through course requirements across the disciplines. In 2008, the College began a competitive Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Program open to all faculty in the college. Faculty members could to submit a research proposal for a 10-week summer project with an undergraduate student. This initiative was followed in 2009 by the establishment of the Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) whose mission is to provide leadership, coordination and support to student-faculty research collaborations, grant-funded research projects and programs, and opportunities for service-based internships. CURE has an ongoing membership in the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR), a national organization of over 900 colleges and universities whose mission is to “support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.” The cumulative impact has been to make student-faculty research a benchmark of the Dyson College experience. During 2011 undergraduate research has expanded to become a university-wide Pace initiative.