‘What I Did Last Summer’ – My Internship in Oral History at Swarthmore College


Published: August 18, 2022 by Melissa Prunty Kemp

Vacation days are over and the semester begins in a mere four days.  Some were fortunate to take beach getaways, while others hiked the NE mountains with friends and family. I am hoping that after you read this summertime report, you will email me with your own stories and photos that I will share on this blog.

In summer 2021, I took INFO 284 – Oral History. This enjoyable refresher on the practice of capturing memory ended up preparing me to be able to land an internship at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania during my semester off in 2022. I was honored to be able to capture 18 Zoom interviews totalling 22.63 hours of conversation from student activists from the classes of 1959 - 1962.  

Scores of students from these years engaged in civil rights activities in multiple states. Whether they were among the original 1960s Freedom Riders in the Deep South, or sitting in and getting arrested at Woolworth’s protests all over the northeast and in Chester, PA, or working to build equitable communities or support these through their labor, the Swarthmore student activist interviews conveyed marvelous experiences. These oral histories added first-hand renditions of how programs like Habitat for Humanities, Upward Bound, and the Pender Hill community began.

My role involved researching and locating current contact information, creating a list of  interview questions based around the original 10 interviews captured in 2012, arranging Zoom interviews and capturing release forms, verifying and cropping video, and managing the transcription process. I also produced a detailed report with descriptive statistical analysis of the interview results based on the interview questions. 

Being able to work on this project is one of the most rewarding academic experiences of my career. I am overjoyed to have received so much material recalled from people who experienced sometimes desperate trauma and who I grew up watching on TV. 
They even produced artifacts that will be added to the library holdings. 

I highly recommend that students pursue internships during their degree programs if they can find the time to do so. Practicing in real-time what we learn in class can be worth its weight in gold. 


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