In Testimony students conducted extensive interviews in select communities (both within and beyond Brown) in an effort to explore how different people bear witness to profound political, social, and environmental change. The students then edited their interviews into testimonial style essays (a la Svetlana Alexievich, Francisco Cantú and others), partnering with their interviewee throughout the process to produce a work that is a reflection of the lived experience of the subject. This course was designed to introduce students to the act of writing creative nonfiction pieces about contemporary issues and to give them the opportunity to experiment with how to make those pieces accessible and relevant in our digital age.
Brown Blogs was the primary site for the course. Students also learned how to make audio recordings in the field and how to edit their audio files using Adobe Audition in workshops facilitated by Academic Technology staff. Some students also used Esri's StoryMaps to host their final product.
This was a semester long course, with about six weeks devoted specifically to the "Fishing on Changing Waters" project. Students began the semester by learning to use their audio recorders and to edit their audio tracks. Their first full fledged project revolved around their interviewing and editing the testimonial of a peer in the course. We then workshopped these pieces and reflected upon what it was like having someone else turn your words into an essay.
For "Fishing on Changing Waters," students interviewed Narragansett Bay fishermen whose lives and livelihoods are changing as a result of climate change and changes in water quality in the Narragansett Bay. This portion of the course involved making multiple field trips to the site (Newport docks) to conduct interviews and then a follow up field trip to Bristol to edit the interviews with the guidance of the interviewees. Professor Rush collaborated with Sarah Schumann, of Resilient Rhode Island Fisheries, in order to contact and work with the above mentioned Narragansett Bay fishermen and women. The final portion of the course was more open-ended with each student contacting, interviewing, editing and collaborating with an interview subject (or subjects) of their own choosing.
The course was supported by a grant from the Swearer Center.
Students presented their work on the "Fishing on Changing Waters" project at the annual Baird Symposium at the University of Rhode Island in December of 2017.
Multiple students from the course continue to pursue testimonial work outside of the classroom, including one student who was awarded a Royce Fellowship to continue her work on her final project.
“With a course like this the biggest challenge is contacting folks who are willing to be interviewed by students and then organizing and conducting field-trips. It can be a logistically demanding teaching experience. That being said, the payoffs are great. Students don't often get opportunities to leave college hill behind and engage with the surrounding community in a meaningful way. The challenges for me are outweighed by the payoffs.
Brown students tend to be incredibly self-driven. I was delighted by the quality and level of commitment displayed in students final projects and I think, upon reflection, I might give them even more time to devote to pursuing a testimonial projects of their own design.” -Elizabeth Rush