Community Publishing

Mike Lyons
Office: Merion Hall 16
Office hours: Mon. and Fri. – 12:30-2, Tue. – 10-11, by appointment.
e-mail: (Please allow at least 24 hours for a response. If you don’t get one by then, e-mail me again.)

“The person you are talking to is trusting you with their memories and their hopes, their realities and their dreams. So remember that, handle them carefully, they’re holding out to you fragile things.”

– Studs Terkel

Social problems sometimes persist because the stories of the people they impact go untold. This gap in the prevailing media and public policy narrative about things like homelessness, gentrification and displacement persists because often those who have the most to lose are not part of the public conversation. This course approaches storytelling as civic action that can spark a process of change. It investigates the intersection of media, memory and civic engagement through the recording and publishing of first-person stories.

The course is project-based and requires significant engagement with Philadelphia residents who will serve as “narrators” of their life experiences and their thoughts about addressing the issues that affect them. By the end of the course you will have helped build an online, community-based oral history project.

This course will also include 8-10 students from the Science Leadership Academy magnet school a few blocks away. These students will be regular members of the class and will work side-by-side with you on the oral history project.


Your experience in this course should:

• Make you more aware of issues facing poor and working class residents of Philadelphia and more capable of contributing to their empowerment.
• Provide you with the skills to plan, organize, carry out and lead a community engagement project.
• Help you become a better mentor and teacher
• Make you a better interviewer through the planning and execution of in-depth interviews.
• Provide you with an advanced level of expertise with digital equipment and publishing platforms.
• Make you a better researcher through your preparation for in-depth interviews.

Required readings/viewings/listenings

There is a lot of reading/viewing/listening for this course but there is no required book. I will supply the readings either through links or PDFs in the course schedule.


This is not a tech heavy course, but you should have a basic understanding of audio equipment and editing software (or be eager to teach yourself). We will also use the publishing platform Omeka, which I assume none of you knows how to use. Again, you need to be eager to learn.

Assignments and projects

This is a project-based course so much of the work you do will be reflected in the end product. But there is a lot to do in a well-run project that never gets published or presented. Many of your assignments are in place to make sure you stay on schedule throughout the semester and that you get to finish the work you start and the narrators you work with get to see what they contributed to. There will be some small practice assignments along the way as well to get you familiar with the recording equipment and give you a feel for interviewing and transcription.

There are no exams, although I expect you to be prepared to discuss the assigned readings, which are critical to our understanding of oral history (from interviewing strategies, to funding, to ethical concerns) and the issues our narrators are confronting. The readings/audio/video will also include oral history interviews themselves, which will be inspiring and helpful in your own work.

The work is divided into individual and groups tasks.

Individual assignments:

Interviews, transcription and indexing

You will be required to conduct two in-depth (at least 45 minute) interviews over the course of the semester. When these are completed will largely depend on the availability of your narrators. They are due online by the end of the semester. A completed interview includes the audio file, transcription and indexing information posted on the project website. Transcription is a crucial part of making an oral history project successful and useful for future activists and researchers. It will take the average typist about 8 hours to transcribe a one-hour interview.

Reading Notes

I am asking each of you to take notes on each reading that we do for class and share those notes with me in a Google doc. The intention here is to help you express what you did and didn’t understand about the reading, identify some key concepts and terms that are important to know in a discussion of digital media ethics and pose some discussion questions about the readings. Your reading notes are due by 10 p.m. the night before class.

A description of the reading notes is here.

Reflective essay

At the end of the course you will submit an approximately 1,000-word reflective essay (about four double-spaced pages) that discusses and explains your role in the project.

Group assignments:

On the first day of class you will choose one of the two projects that you would like to participate in (slots are limited in each, but I hope everyone gets their first choice). That will be your group for the entire semester. One of your first acts as a group probably should be to divide up the work and assign roles to each other. Several tasks require special attention. These include:

• Liaising with narrators and people from the non-profits we work with.
• Applying for grant funding
• Installing, building and maintaing the website.

Your group will also need to collaboratively write some important documents for the project. We will go over these more in class. They include:

• A mission statement
• A project description and written plan
• An interview guide
• A funding application
• Research presentations
• A release form
• An interview log

Failure to complete any of these will result in a failing grade.


Your individual assignments (your transcribed and indexed interviews, reading notes and reflective essay) account for 50 percent of your grade. Your group’s grade, based on the completion and quality of your final project, will make up the other 50 percent.

Academic Integrity

In this course you are dealing with the words, thoughts and memories of others. Any misrepresentation or fabrication of those will result in a failure for the course and you will be punished to the fullest extent possible. Also, no form of academic misconduct will be tolerated in this course. Cheating and plagiarism will result in an immediate failing grade and you will be reported to the appropriate official in your college. Plagiarism is defined in the Student Code of Conduct as follows:

1. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.

2. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.

3. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.

Special Needs

For those who have or think that you may have a disability (learning, physical or psychological), you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room G10, Bellarmine, 610-660-1774 or 610-660-1620 as early as possible in the semester. Reasonable accommodations can only be offered to students with current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability and to the extent that such accommodation does not interfere with the essential requirements of a particular course or program.

If you have any questions contact Jim Scott, Director, Services for Students with Disabilities – Bellarmine – Room G10 – 610-660-1774 or


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