Unearthing Silenced Histories: Profile

Activity Steps:

Conduct an interview with a person you select. Your goal is to unearth a 'silenced history'—to find a point of view that differs from what is usually presented in the mainstream media.

1. Review:
Look at artworks by Doris Salcedo, Glenn Ligon, and Kara Walker that reveal silenced histories. Salcedo's work is based on interviews with survivors of violence and the families of people who have disappeared in her home country of Colombia. Ligon and Walker make art that explores the legacy of slavery in America.
2. Discuss:
With your class, talk about what a silenced history is. How is this kind of history different from other histories? What are some mainstream media sources of information, and what are some alternative sources? Why do you think certain voices are not generally heard on television or in newspapers? How does learning about a silenced history change your view about the particular community it affected?
3. Choose:
As a class, select an important event from recent history. Then research the event as it was presented in the mainstream media. The teacher may wish to bring in a speaker to discuss his or her personal experience with the event. Begin thinking of a person you can speak with outside of class who lived through the event.
4. Brainstorm:
With the class or in small groups, brainstorm questions to ask your interview subject about the historical event. Your questions should be designed to help you discover his or her particular point of view. You should also think about what the event means to you (since your interviewee may ask).
5. Interview:
Make an appointment with your subject and conduct the interview.
6. Write:
Compose a short summary of the interview. Be sure to explain who the person is and how he or she experienced the event in question. What did your subject think about it then? How does he or she reflect on it now?
7. Present:
Present your summary to the class. How do the views of other students' interviewees differ, and how are they the same? Are there conflicts, or general agreement? Appoint one student to chart similarities and differences.
8. Reflect:
In your journal or as a class, consider how each interviewee's views and experiences were different. How does hearing these points of view change your ideas about the event in question and the culture you live in? Does it give you a different perspective on what you see on television and read in the newspaper?