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Oral History Project

Wall in the Minds: An Oral History of the Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall

The John F. Kennedy School

Oral history is the dynamic process of gathering and preserving historical perspectives through recorded interviews. This method of historical inquiry gives a voice to people who have been hidden from history and provides researchers with a forum to speak with history face to face.

The John F. Kennedy School Berlin Wall Oral History Project is the culmination of the efforts of fifty students. Each of the students in my two tenth grade history classes played a role in the creation of this book. Thirty students conducted, recorded and transcribed extensive interviews with Germans who lived in a divided country. They interviewed individuals from various backgrounds and encountered a diversity of experiences and perspectives. In all, their interviews amount to over 250 pages of raw qualitative data (the full text of the interviews is available at this page). Adding to this data bank, four students took on the responsibility of gathering quantitative information. These quantitative researchers, armed with the knowledge that numbers can speak volumes, provided the charts, graphs and maps used in the book. Another four students compiled archival photographs of divided Berlin. One student created a video documentary which, through interviews with student participants, offers valuable insights into the process undertaken for this project. Finally, eight students wrote this book. These students synthesized the data gathered by their classmates with published works in order to create a scholarly oral history text. Their collaboration was nothing short of beautiful, their sacrifices are the lifeblood of this endeavor and I admire their devotion.

It has been my responsibility, as the editor of the John F. Kennedy School Berlin Wall Oral History Project, to facilitate a student-directed effort by encouraging and coordinating their efforts. This book is for and by my students and my objective was to support them in bringing forth the voices of those who stood in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. What stands before the reader is the culmination of the efforts of conscientious, compassionate and curious tenth grade students.

It is a pleasure to present Wall in the Minds: An Oral History of the Rise and the Fall of the Berlin Wall

You are encouraged to offer feedback in the “comments” link situated on the bottom of this page.

Alaina Mack documented the processes that we engaged in as we wrote this book. In this video documentary, she captures the challenges that we faced and some of the lessons that we learned:

THE MAKING PART 1: Oral History Project

THE MAKING PART 2: Oral History Project

In addition to documenting the making of our book, Alaina quoted our transcribed interviews as the basis for an historical documentary, titled “Just a Day”, which offers valuable insights into life in a divided city and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

JUST A DAY: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

On 30 April 2008, we held a book release seminar for all those involved in this process. This gathering served the dual functions of celebrating the release of our book and commemorating the experiences of those who lived in a divided Berlin. We had a panel of interviewees who joined us to elaborate on their experiences.

While Alaina was filming, Chasity Crisp, who contributed to the photos used in the book, took pictures. You can view her photo montage here


The project made a splash at JFKS. Read an interview with Anna Zychlinsky and I from the JFKS student-run newspaper, The Muckraker.

Students utilized various online resources for the this project. Feel free to explore the resources here

The assignment sheets and accompanying rubrics for the various contributors to the project are available at this page



5 Responses to “Oral History Project”

  1. Bart Says:

    Did you use any collaborative technology (web2.0) tools or was this done with word, email, paper, and face to face meetings?

  2. Eileen Orzoff Says:

    I am so impressed.
    You and your students are truly and inspiration.
    Way to go Dan!

  3. Dan Lazar Says:


    My junior research essay in high school was about the ‘information superhighway’. It was all so conceptual to me. But now, evidently, it is very real. Web 2.0 is just a concept to me. An exciting concept, but abstract nonetheless. What does it all mean and how could I have used it for this project?


  4. Aunt Sheryl Says:

    What a pleasure to have a true scholar in the family…U R awesome and very proud of of you and your students’ major accomplishment!!! HUGS

  5. laura Says:

    well it took me some time but i have finally reviewed this site and the book. quite an informative and impressive feat! something to be proud of for both you and your students.

    one piece i thought was really cool outside of the content was that the students were learning about possible careers in editing, publishing, and copywriting – it was just as much an education in book building as it was from a historical perspective.