Professor forms oral history course



Eric Buras, Kyleah Frederic, Sheila Tahir, Amelie Karam, Caitlin Webster, and assistant history professor Justin Nystrom, Ph.D. from the Documentary and Oral History class. The class focuses on engaging students on documenting oral history through the medium of film about subjects they are passionate about.


History students have become filmmakers with the addition of an oral history course on campus.

Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to take a class in oral history and learn how to transcribe and archive history. Justin Nystrom, assistant history professor, began teaching his freshmen seminar students how to document history and has decided to make it into a course of its own.

“We’re moving into the realm of filmmaking,” Nystrom said. “I want students to be passionate about it. Have fun.”

Amelie Karam, performance and film studies senior, worked on a documentary about the New Orleans Longshoremen and has presented the film at a recent Southern Labor Studies Association  meeting. The documentary focuses on how the longshoremen’s work has changed due to new work ethics.

“It’s about the men who have worked on the docks along the water front,” Karam said. “One of the main questions was about how containerization has impacted them. This made work much more efficient but changed the men’s lives greatly. The necessary men needed was cut in half.”

Karam said she took the class last semester and, with the help and guidance of Nystrom, the class was a great way to learn about New Orleans and was an opportunity to be very hands on.

“The class was fun,” Karam said. “We formed a little family since we were together for three or more hours every Monday night. It was hard work, but worth it.”

Eric Buras, political science junior, was excited to be a part of making the documentary and got a better idea of how oral history is studied and performed.

“Our class was the first oral history class taught by Dr. Nystrom, so it was a learning experience,” Buras said.

The class has only been offered in the fall but Buras plans to take the class again. Each semester, the class will have a new focus. Buras has heard the fall 2013 session will showcase the wave of entrepreneurs brought to the city since Hurricane Katrina.

“I think the class is best suited for students interested in understanding oral history, how to edit and produce documentaries, and want to learn interviewing techniques,” Buras said.

Buras said working with the longshoremen was fun but at times challenging.

“The longshoremen were a riot,” Buras said. “They’re sort of like politicians, instead of answering what they were asked they would just talk about what they wanted to.”Caitlin Webster, history senior, enjoyed the class even though it was time consuming and working with the longshoremen was at times difficult.

“Some of the longshoremen were quiet, which made interviewing them challenging, but there were also some who were very talkative and had really interesting stories to tell,” Webster said.

Webster said the class is best for students interested in interviewing and journalism.

Kenneth Crier, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 3000, is excited to get the chance to see the documentary.

“I haven’t seen it yet, but I have heard good things,” Crier said.

Lauren Hinojosa can be reached at [email protected]