In the early 1990s, history teacher Jim White (UNC, ’71) began dispatching his high school students to interview war veterans in Pamlico and Craven counties.
“I got tired of my students copying each other’s papers,” he told the Carolina Alumni Review. “I said, ‘I’ll come up with something they can’t copy.'”
While the students objected at first, they soon became fascinated with “these old gentlemen.” By 2010, White had 1,092 interviews with 854 veterans, covering every conflict in the 20th century.
Bryan Giemza, director of the Southern Historical Collection, told the Carolina Alumni Review: “Even though some of those recordings are poor–some are downright miserable; these are not trained field researchers–I think there’s still something to be said for what they discover and what can be developed in the aggregate.
“The other piece to the amateur puzzle is, sometimes you get a rather wobbly result, but other times you get something that’s really quite unique. People might say something to one of Jim White’s high school students … precisely because they are amateurs, quote-unquote.”
The James E. White Oral History Collection is available for consultation at Wilson Library.