University of Central Florida students are interviewing local veterans this fall as part of a new university effort to document their stories and the realities of war and preserve them for generations.
The UCF Community Veterans History Project collects, preserves and makes accessible the stories of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from them. Stories are told through narratives, correspondence and visual materials such as photos, drawings and scrapbooks.
The project already has begun in some UCF classes, including a history of Iraq class, and a historical methods class. Additional UCF classes will be participating and interviewing veterans during the next several months.
The UCF Library will retain an archive of all of the transcripts, and they will be available to students and the public. Some of the histories also will be donated to the national Veterans History Project, a project of the U.S. Library of Congress American Folk Life Center.
“The UCF Community Veterans History Project will enhance Central Florida’s historic legacy, and show our local veterans that they are appreciated for their service on behalf of freedom for all of us,” said Valarie King, director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives and one of the project’s leaders. “Our veterans provide a rich historical archive, and we are eager to preserve their highly personal wartime stories in their own words.”
Last year, the Office of Diversity Initiatives received an unsolicited $20,000 gift from Google to support the office’s work on behalf of the UCF community. Some of these funds will be used for the UCF Community Veterans History Project.
UCF is integrating the project into multiple disciplines — including History, Communications, Political Science, Sociology, English, Composition and Women’s Studies — to teach students how to gather oral histories, enhance their interpersonal communication skills and deepen their understanding of history and veterans’ wartime experiences.
In addition to King, project leaders include Rosalind Beiler, the History Department chair; Martin Dupuis, associate dean of the Burnett Honors College; and James Middlekauff, associate registrar for Veteran Services. Together, they are training professors from multiple disciplines how to integrate the project into their courses.
The national Library of Congress project, signed into law in 2000, has 15,000 searchable histories available online at www.loc.gov/vets, including videos, transcripts, digital photos and scanned documents. The entire collection, nearing 70,000 histories, includes original materials and memorabilia and is housed in the Folklife Center Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Jessica Souva, a representative for the Library of Congress, works in Tallahassee to promote the project to Floridians. She said about 20 universities are participating nationally, and that UCF is the only university in Florida to widely integrate the project into many disciplines.
The Library of Congress is focusing on Florida because more than 15 percent of the state’s residents are veterans, the second-highest state population of veterans in the country.
Central Florida veterans who want to share their personal wartime histories may sign up at the project’s Web site: http://riches.cah.ucf.edu/veterans. People who worked wartime support roles, such as flight instructors, volunteer medics or wartime industry workers, also are invited to participate.
Call the UCF History Department’s RICHES program for additional information at 407-823-0242.