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Human Rights Archive - Teaching with Primary Sources

Subject Guide

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Patrick Stawski
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Duke University, Box 90185
Durham, NC 27708
Email me:
Call me:919-660-5823


Refugee Lives Oral History ProjectThe Rubenstein Library’s Human Rights Archive contains extensive primary sources on migration and displacement and how it shapes communities, families, and individuals’ lives. Our collections include the historical records of non-government organizations who assist and advocate for migrants and refugees, art and journalistic photography, NGO and INGO publications and reports, as well as oral histories with migrants and refugees. Session II focuses on oral histories and testimonials and how documentary practices can add to our understanding of the immigrant experience .

This module was developed by Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist and Hannah Ontiveros, The Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Intern 2020-2021, PhD candidate Duke University Dept. of History.

Learning Objectives

  • Analyze documents pertaining to migration in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
  • Interpret migrants' personal stories by examining oral histories.
  • Identify key components of contemporary migration issues.

Contextual Readings

Suggested Reading

"Making Sense of Oral History", section "Getting Started", Linda Shopes.

"Documenting the Undocumented: Archiving and recording the refugee experience", Paul V. Dudman.

Protection in Europe for Refugees from Syria,” Refugee Studies Centre.

Migration Profile: Syria”, Migration Policy Centre.

Assignment Plan

Before class:

Have your students take a moment to read the Rubenstein Library’s approach to classes. It’s very short, but includes things students will want to keep in mind as they work with primary sources now and in the future.

Ask students to review UNHCR’s 2019 “Trends at a Glance” .

Ask your students to review the Refugee Lives Oral History Project Collection Guide

Day of assignment:

Either individually or in groups, students will listen to three audio clips from the Refugee Lives Oral History Project (available below) and complete the Document Analysis Worksheet [downloadable from the box to the left of the screen] for each one. (~10 minutes).

Next, ask students to select one interview to engage with more extensively guided by the following questions (adapted from Shopes, L. 2012) (~20 minutes):

  • Who is the interviewee? What about them might effect the way they present their narrative?
  • Who is the interviewer? What do you know about them and how might that effect the outcome of the interview?
  • What are they talking about? Is there a plot or structure to the narrative?
  • Why are they talking?  Is there a specific purpose for the interview?
  • Where and when did the interview occur and how? What impact might these circumstances have on the interview?

Ask students to share the results of their analysis and discuss these questions as a class (~30 minutes):

  • What were your general observations after listening to these interviews?
  • Did your understanding of the interview change after the deeper analysis?
  • What questions do the interviews raise about oral histories?
  • What did the interviews tell you about migration? About human rights?
  • How might you use these interviews to tell a broader story?
  • How do they fit in with or challenge what other sources tell us about migration or human rights?

Primary Sources

Refugee Lives Oral History Project

Oral histories, transcriptions, videos, and fieldnotes created by students in Doc Studies 321S-01/ AMES 320S at Duke University/Center for Documentary Studies, between 2015 and 2018.

Interview with Carmen Omar, “4 minute edit” or available below.

Interview with Gayath Abd Alaziz, “4 minute edit” or available below.

Interview with Jan Zedin, “4 minute edit” or available below.

Transcripts for each of these interviews are available in the file browser at the bottom of the page linked here.