DALN in Theory and Practice

Columbus Neighborhoods (an extension of the WOSU documentary television series that spotlights historic neighborhoods in the Columbus, Ohio area) provides a space for “storytelling sessions, public forums, lesson plans, [and] news reports” that are of particular interest to the communities in and around Columbus. However, composition scholars outside of Columbus — and those who work in closely related fields like digital humanities, digital archives, or literacy studies — will find Courtney Gilbert’s recent article about Ohio State students collecting literacy narratives interesting because it illustrates the theoretical and pedagogical value of the DALN. As she points out, “For the DALN, both oral histories and literacy narratives look at history and its retelling through a particular lens: literacy, or how individuals across varying cultures have interacted with texts, words and books.”

First, Gilbert highlights the DALN as a resource that provides scholars with at least three theoretical approaches to oral histories and literacy narratives: a material approach, a historical approach, and a cultural approach. She invokes all three when she asks readers to “[c]onsider this: [w]hat if we used words spoken about the past to function as artifacts in the same way historic buildings and sites do?” Her opening question prompts scholars to consider words and stories as a material worth studying because those words and stories signify historical milieux; the stories both describe history and become history. Further, if stories become historical materials for future narratives of history, then collecting the widest variety of oral histories encourages scholars to understand the DALN as culturally subversive. That is, as Ben McCorkle states, the DALN is constructed by the contributors — by those telling their stories in their own words — which means “history is being told from the bottom, and traditionally it has been top down.”

Second, Gilbert shows the DALN as a useful pedagogical resource. She discusses English 2367, an undergraduate course at OSU that asks students to collect oral histories or literacy narratives from people around the community (students are also asked to provide their own literacy narrative). During the course, students interview, listen, and communicate with a variety of people, which will inevitably include logistical problems and prompt complicated discussions about ethics, which is where the DALN comes in. The DALN, Gilbert points out, provides prompts and handouts that help students when they interview, record, and listen to others. Additionally, the DALN website provides the storyteller with models of other literacy narratives, which can alleviate the stress people feel when looking at a microphone and telling their stories. Also of particular interest to instructors, the DALN provides instructional kits and ideas about how to structure assignments. (The DALN also provides irb materials, handouts, forms, and how to contribute to specific projects like the Women’s Lives in the Profession Project).

For those scholars and writing instructors interested in oral histories or literacy narratives, Gilbert’s article provides important ways to approach the DALN as a useful resource.

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