The Twentieth Century

Experiences of a Nation

Oral Interview Project

1950s 1960s 1970s

As centuries go, this has been one of the most amazing: inspiring, at times horrifying, and fascinating. Let's take stock for a moment. To name just a few random things we did in a hundred years: we split the atom, invented jazz and rock, launched airplanes and landed on the moon, concocted a general theory of relativity, devised the transistor and figured out how to etch millions of them on tiny microchips, discovered penicillin and the structure of DNA, fought down fascism and communism, developed cinema and television, built highways and wired the world. Not to mention the peripherals these produced, such as sitcoms and cable channels, "800" numbers and Websites, shopping malls and leisure time, existentialism and modernism, Oprah and Imus. And against all odds, we avoided blowing ourselves up. All this produced some memorable players. Look around. There's Louis Armstrong with his horn, Charlie Chaplin with his cane, Rosa Parks staying seated on her bus, Einstein is in his study, and the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show~ WALTER ISAACSON


You can learn much about these defining decades in American history by interviewing grandparents, relatives, family friends, neighbors and members of the community. Through the interview process you will explore and chronicle the events that defined the American experience in the 20th century. Everyone has a story. You are encourage to explore your own areas of interest. An interview is a gold mine, It yields nuggets of invaluable insight into the subject’s personal experiences. I encourage all students to use Story Corp to help you with this experience and archive your interview for your family and future generations. After completing the interview, you will summarize their insights and your impressions of the era through the experiences and lenses of the individual you chose to interview in a 2-3 page paper due 6/9.

1. Use the Oral Interview Worksheet to plan for your interview. Start with areas of special interest, and then narrow your focus on specific people, events or experiences that you would like to explore. Develop at least 10 relevant questions that will be used in your interview. 

2. The Interview 

Download Story Corp App on your phone. Record and archive interview. 

Story Corps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

*Due dates For Final Project

3. Oral Interview Worksheet due 5/24

4. 2 page reflection due 6/9

5. Teach-in 6/12-14

The following will help you plan an interview:


  • Make an appointment with your subject. Ask their permission to record and archive the interview. Spend time on Story Corp and test run the app, develop your questions.

    • Establish a focus for your questions. In what aspect of your subject’s life are you most interested? List questions that focus on it. Avoid questions with yes-or-no answers. Instead, start questions with “Tell me about….” or “How did you….” or  "How do you feel about…” Send your questions to your subject ahead of time to let him or her think about them.


      Prototype Questions on the 1960s:


      1. What were your reflections of the civil rights movement and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Do you remember where you were and how you reacted to the news of his assassination? To the assassination of Robert Kennedy two months later?
      2. What did you think of the riots that occurred in the aftermath of Dr. King’s murder? Of the Kerner Commission report?
      3. Did you participate in civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war or other protest? If so, describe your experience.
      4. What was your opinion of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency? Of his “War on Poverty” and his Great Society programs? Of the way he handled the Vietnam War? For which should he be most remembered?
      5. How did the war in Vietnam and the war policies of the candidates influence your opinion of the outcome of the November election? Do you think Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy would have made a good president? Why or why not?
      6. What was your opinion of Richard Nixon in 1968? What did you think of his pledge to restore “law and order” to America?
      7. Were you involved in the political campaign of any of the candidates for President? If so, describe your experience. How did you feel on Election Day 1968?

      1. Give your brief impressions of any of the following:

      The 1950's

      Baby boom * Suburbanization * Salk vaccine *Space program *Television *Hydrogen bomb *Sputnik *Rachel Carson Silent Spring *Disneyland *Federal Highway Act *Levittowns *Betty Friedan Feminism *Joseph McCarthy *Marilyn Monroe *James Dean *The Hollywood Ten *The Beat generation *Rock n’ Roll *Elvis * Civil Rights *Brown v. Board of Ed. *Rosa Parks *Little Rock Nine *Martin Luther King, Jr. *Massive resistance *Fidel Castro Cuban Revolution *The Cold War *The Korean War 

      The 1960s

      Election of 1960 *John F. Kennedy *The New Frontier * Assassination of Kennedy *Lyndon Johnson *The Great Society *Senator Barry Goldwater *Medicare and Medicaid *Freedom Riders *March on Washington *Civil Rights Act 1964 *Voting Rights Act 1965 *Watts Riot *Black Power Movement *Malcolm X *Cuban Missile Crisis *Gulf of Tonkin Resolution *Vietnam War *Robert F. Kennedy *Tet Offensive *1968 *assassination of King and  Robert Kennedy *Black Panthers *Stokley Carmichael *Huey Newton  *Counter Culture *Woodstock 1969 *The Apollo 11 *The Draft *Anti War movement *National Organization of Women *Stonewall Riot *Free Speech Movement *Students for a Democratic Society *The New Left *The Beatles

      The 1970s

      Richard Nixon *Cambodia *Pentagon Papers *Kent State *Saturday Night Massacre *Watergate *The Energy Crisis *Roe v. Wade *Stagflation *Vietnamization *Detente *The Silent Majority *Earth Day *3 Mile Island *Fall of Saigon *Pardoning of Nixon *Jimmy Carter *Camp David Accords *Iranian Hostage Crisis *The Moral Majority *Ronald Reagan