Their focus is on Mexican-American youth activism of the 1930s and ‘40s, but the students in USC’s Echoes of the Mexican Voice journalism course will draw on aspects of USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive when they create their own multimedia website this semester.
Along with graduate instructor and director of the Echoes of the Mexican Voice project Isabel Castro-Melendez, the 10 students in the Journalism 490/590 Directed Research course Echoes of the Mexican Voice met with USC Shoah Foundation’s director of research Dan Leshem and educational program designer Claudia Wiedeman during their two-hour visit last week. They received demonstrations of the Visual History Archive and IWitness and engaged in a discussion with Leshem and Wiedeman about USC Shoah Foundation’s work and mission.
Echoes of the Mexican Voice tasks undergraduate and graduate students with creating a multimedia website that draws from archival materials from The Mexican Voice and other youth activist magazines published by Mexican-American students in the 1930s and ‘40s. Students will use these source materials as well as music, drawings, photographs and art from the period to tell new stories with digital media tools.
The project is part of Castro-Melendez's thesis project in the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism's Specialized Journalism master's program. It will continue through 2015.
Castro-Melendez said she and her fellow instructors, Professors Felix Gutierrez and Robert Hernandez, wanted the students to experience other research archives and historical documents in preparation for creating their own website.
“We feel it is vitally important for students to not only read about past history but whenever possible experience firsthand and as closely as possible the stories of the past through the eyes and lens of young scholars today. History is more impactful that way and it makes a lasting impression,” she said. “The USC Shoah Foundation houses one of the most historically significant archives of our time. It is our duty as educators and scholars to share these valuable resources with current students and future generations.”
The students were impressed by several aspects of the Visual History Archive and IWitness, Castro-Melendez said, such as the size and scope of the archive, the ease of searchability using meta-data and keywords, and how moving and relevant the testimonies are.
They also enjoyed Wiedeman’s discussion of ethical video editing, which they will need to keep in mind as they use historical materials to create their own projects.
“They found the IWitness educational activities creative, informative and a useful tool for storytelling. The learned new skills and saw examples of ways how they could maybe approach their own stories—which are currently being researched and developed,” Castro-Melendez said.
Wiebke Schuster, a master’s candidate in Specialized Journalism who is taking the course, said visiting USC Shoah Foundation was especially insightful for her as a German native. Leshem’s comment that “history happens to people” has stuck with her, she said.
“History becomes alive through those who lived through the time – their challenges and decision making process helps us decide for ourselves today: will we allow for history to repeat itself?” Schuster said. “It is through interpersonal relationships, through connecting with strangers, friends and family that we can access compassion best – a powerful emotion that will help my generation and generations to come closer to understanding the devastating reality of genocide still happening around the world today.
“The USC Shoah Foundation allows us access to these stories – whether we're interested citizens, students or scholars,” she added.
When working on the Echoes of the Mexican Voice project, Schuster said, she hopes to be able to play a part in showing how important it is to bring archival material to the digital age and therefore make it more readily accessible to a wider audience.
Jennifer Velez, also a Specialized Journalism master’s candidate, said the visit helped her think about the ways she can ethically contribute to an archive when trying to connect subject matter from the past to present day. She also noticed similarities in the way Jews and Mexican Americans have been marginalized throughout history.
“Because of this history, it is crucial to not only share knowledge about their struggles so people become aware, but also to be able to connect these stories to the present day,” Velez said.
The Echoes of the Mexican Voice website will launch at the end of the spring semester in April.