Oral History and Local Cultural Studies

Understanding local culture underlies the important goal of preserving it. Through the oral history and local cultural studies initiative, we encourage rural public and school libraries to preserve and study local culture, including collecting tangible and intangible elements of local culture, and researching the culture in danger, especially using oral history as an important way of gathering information when the lack of existing related literature is the norm. In order to bring to the community a better understanding of its local culture and history, the work products of these projects are archived in the local library and shared with the community.  The team members that have conducted this exploration, whether public library staff and volunteers, or school teachers and students, become closer to the culture. Their research capability also has improved through the inquiry-based and collaborative learning process. 

2014: Kaili Local Culture Study Project

Tin Embroidery Culture Study project by Kaili No. 1 High School, Guizhou, in which 3 history teachers and 7 students, with the help from an IT teacher and a librarian, studied a unique traditional handicraft of the Miao ethnic group by visiting a Miao village, interviewing tin embroidery masters and villagers, and recording the production process.

The project not only enhanced students’ research skills, interview skills, and IT skills, but also the historical dimension of the cultural study helped students see the interplay of change and continuity and the conflicts and dilemmas that people face. Furthermore, community-centered learning allowed students to derive ideas and form understandings in various subjects through a direct experience in a community environment, which is smaller-scale but no less rich and complex than the larger world. Students developed stronger relationships with their community and a comprehension and appreciation of diverse cultures and of shared humanity. Effectively, students are engaged in cultural preservation via this process.

The project team generated a video to share their work:

Listening to the Voice of Ancestors ---Miao Tin Embroidery Oral History


2014: TianZhu Tu Folk Customs Study

Tianzhu County of Gansu Province, known as the "rainbow nation", is one of the birthplaces of Tu ethnicity. Tu culture was well developed at the latest by the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty. Wedding customs are grand and lively with complicated protocols; the wedding ceremony songs have more than 20 kinds of lyrics. On 6th of the first Lunar month, 2014, Tianzhu Xinhua Middle School student Kang Xin and his father came to Shimen Village, Shimen Town and recorded the entire wedding ceremony of the groom SaiMaHuanJue and the bride NaoRenCao:

The Colorful Dance Feast--- Tu Wedding Customs Oral History


2012: Tianzhu Walking Horse Oral History

The Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Gansu Province, China was the gateway to the Hexi Corridor, the hub of the Silk Road. The Chakouyi (Fork Stage) horse, well-known for its flying pace (a.k.a “walking horse” ), is an excellent local breed, whose high-spirited gait was captured by the Galloping Bronze Horse statue, which is the symbol of China’s tourism. Over a long historical period, factors, which include ethnic customs, trade and business, politics and military affairs, have formed a rich walking horse culture of breeding, training, trading, and racing. However, because traditionally the related knowledge and stories relied heavily on oral transmission, the literature on this subject is acutely lacking.
In 2012, to learn more about the human ecology in the northwestern highland, the teachers and students from Tianzhu No. 1 High School started synthesizing the essential characteristics of and changes in the walking horse culture from the oral narratives of ordinary folks.

Tianzhu Walking Horse Oral History


May 2009 - May 2012: TianZhu Oral History Project -- Pilot Project

This 3-year project started in May 2009. To cultivate historical sense and research capability of students, as well as to preserve and promote local culture, TianZhu No. 1 High School teachers and students, with the guidance from experts, studied the oral history methodology, and designed and implemented this project to collect oral history and folk culture. They set up a digital archive, demonstrated and promoted their oral history collection through media and on the internet. The school also opened a special inter-disciplinary (history, literature) curriculum "Oral History and Folk Culture" based on this project.

By June 2010, 15 students and 5 teachers have participated in Phase I of this project, and completed 7 interviews and related organization and archiving of text digest, audio, and video. The interviewees include the Minority Tu History scholar, traditional art AnZhao artist, and Thang-ka artist, etc. The training and interview process stimulated the interest of teachers and students in oral history, contributed to establishing the complete working process. The project team received very positive feedback from the scholars and folk artists. All the interview works are now archived in a local library and shared with the community.  The videos provided below are 2 of 7 interviews during the Phase 1 period:

 Interview with TianZhu local writer Mr. Jin 

 Interview with TianZhu folklorist Mr. Ding







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