Vietnam Project collects oral histories

by Racquel Lyn | 3/31/17 2:05am

This past January, history professor Edward Miller and former Secretary of State John Kerry met in Hanoi, Vietnam to track the site of a 1969 Viet Cong ambush. Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, was determined to visit the site of the ambush, during which he killed a Viet Cong soldier targeting Kerry-led U.S. Swift boats. Miller, a Vietnam War historian, provided Kerry with reproductions of 1960s U.S. Geological Survey maps of Hanoi and helped Kerry retrace the site of the ambush.

Miller’s work with the Vietnam War also includes the Dartmouth Vietnam Project, an oral history program run by Dartmouth students, faculty and alumni. Each summer, the program trains sophomore students to interview alumni, current and former faculty and staff, family members and local Upper Valley residents about their experiences in the Vietnam War era. On average, about eight sophomores conduct and transcribe four to five interviews each year. The DVP is led by three faculty members, Edward Miller, history professor Jennifer Miller and Rauner Special Collections Library archivist Caitlin Birch. Edward Miller was the main founder of the project, as he had been teaching History 26, “The Vietnam War,” for several years at the College and is also fluent in Vietnamese.

Edward Miller said that besides gaining hands-on experience in doing the interviews, students also acquire a deeper understanding and context of oral history throughout the program.

“This is a program where the students who are participating are learning by doing, especially learning how to do oral history,” Edward Miller said, adding that the program also teaches the theory and ethical issues of oral history.

Birch leads the oral history program at Rauner and represents the library aspect of the project team. She is involved with transcribing the interviews, making digital presentations of them, making the interviews accessible for research and doing outreach for the program. Birch said she enjoys collaborating with the students and teaching them.

“It is rewarding to me to be able to give them skills they did not have beforehand,” she said.

Jennifer Miller said that the program raises money through donations and various offices on campus. She added that students are responsible for doing their own research on the people they interview, while the faculty simply help them along the process.

Bryan Bliek ’18, a student who participated in DVP last summer, said he gained a deeper understanding of Vietnamese history and how it fits into broader contemporary history.

“DVP has been a great supplement to my studies in that learning more about the Vietnam War meshes well with my focus on East Asia within my government major and my focus on the history of U.S. foreign policy,” he said.