Those of us who struggled with history in school may remember it as a dull progression of events occurring in unfamiliar places and involving people we’d never heard of; a bland chronology with no clear connection to our aspirations or our daily lives.
As we grow older, we often develop a greater appreciation for the real-life stories behind these textbook timelines. As our own lives unfold we come to understand that, in many important ways, the point of studying history is not the rote memorisation of conquests and fallen empires, but coming to terms with the grand trajectory of the human family. Simply put, it is the story of how we came to be here in this place and this moment – part inspiration, part cautionary tale.
Oral history projects, such as the one facilitated recently by Cayman International School social studies teacher Kevin Hamlin, help young people make that connection. They spark students’ interest in our islands’ story by presenting it through lived and breathed experience. We are glad to see so many young people taking these lessons to heart.
The project asks Grade 8 students to interview older residents about days gone by and their current thoughts about our community. In the process, the students learn much more than tricks for battling mosquitoes, gathering food in thatch baskets or ‘making do’. They learn about the ways community and circumstances shape our experiences, our shared values and our lives.
In particular, the challenges met by previous generations provide important perspective for today’s young people (and, frankly, many of us who are no longer quite so young). Even better, Hamlin told the Compass he’d like the students to transcribe their interviews and submit them to the Cayman National Archives to preserve these stories for generations to come.