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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Sandra M. Chait
HUM 498
Seattle Campus

Special Topics in the Humanities

Intensive research opportunity, for work on project of independent and/or original design in the cultural disciplines. Mentored by UW and visiting faculty in the arts, humanities, and qualitative social sciences, by arrangement only. Offered: S.

Class description

COURSE OFFERED SPRING 2002 ONLY Dr Sandra Chait Program on Africa 274F Mary Gates Hall Tel: 616-0998/Fax: 616-2465 schait@u.washington.edu

Writing Multicultural Life-Histories: Communities in Transition: Eritea, South Africa and the USA

Course Outline

Course Objectives and Goals: This is a methods course in recording and interpreting oral biography in multicultural settings. Through course instruction, workshops, and interactive discussion among the Universities of Asmara (Eritrea), Port Elizabeth (South Africa), and Washington (USA), students will learn how to write culturally-appropriate life histories in those specific African countries. At the same time, they will acquire skills necessary for writing the same in other cultures. The course will be focused thematically on the role that such biographies can play in the building of communities at a time of transition and will approach the material from a post-structural viewpoint that sees the writing of life-histories as an art. As communities change (for example, from oral to literate, literate to digital; local to global), collecting such data and interpreting it accurately provides valuable historical records for the country concerned; further, telling one's story enables the ordinary person ( rather than politicians and leaders) to participate in community-building and to have his or her contribution validated. The course covers structuring the interview and questions; transcription and interpretation; photography and film records; language and interpretation. Using qualitative research methods, we will look at such questions as truth and active forgetting, transference and counter-transference, and the role of performance and context in accurately recording an interviewee's narrative. The part played by gender will be examined, as well as personal rapport, and even romance, in the interviewing process. Much of the course will be conducted in an interactive virtual course space. It is structured to enable Eritrean, South African, and American students to interact technologically for the purpose of sharing their cultural knowledge and thus enriching the basic field research skills learnt in the classroom. Students will be asked to identify and explore problems inherent in multi-cultural interviewing and to brainstorm solutions with their co-students in the other two countries. Dependant on technical capabilities in each country, this will be done by means of such options as bulletin boards, chat rooms, whiteboards, notepads, discussion boards, etc. Case studies will be presented for joint analysis, while role-playing and mock-interviews will provide initial experience. Class time will be divided into two: (1) discussion of lectures/ reading materials placed on-line, and (2) workshops, during which class projects and interactive dialogue within the virtual course space will take place. The workshops will be further divided so that students of specific colleges (social work, nursing, arts & science) can focus on discipline-relevant interviews and case-studies). By the end of the course, in addition to the life-story writing skills acquired, students will have the ability to interact and problem-solve at an international and multicultural level. Secondly, they will possess a degree of cultural competence in two cultures outside of their own. Thirdly, students will have the background and skills to participate, if desired, in the following proposed UW World-Wide international projects in Eritrea and/or South Africa: Program on Africa's "Biography Project" in Eritrea & South Africa School of Nursing's Training Program in Eritrea School of Social Work's "Women Victims of War" in Eritrea

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

COURSE OFFERED SPRING 2002 Required Reading: All required reading will be on-line Student Requirements: Students will be required to attend and participate in all class discussions, real and virtual, and in all class projects. You will be expected to write a midterm and a final paper: the first, which will be based on your term work thus far, will compare a face-to-face interview with a virtual one, transcribing the interviews and explaining choices made in terms of syntax, style, grammar and punctuation; for the second paper, you will undertake a final in-depth interview in the virtual course space, transcribe and interpret it, and then write up the oral biography. The interview should be focused on a topic or theme, and questions, notes and transcriptions should be handed in with the written biography.

Class assignments and grading

Grading: Out of a possible 400 points: 200 final paper 150 mid-term 50 in-class writing, discussion, technological interaction & participation


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Elizabeth Browning
Date: 06/05/2002