A Pioneering Project
In the world of oral history, there is a huge need to capture the stories of the LGBTQ+ communities overlooked by mainstream media. This includes rural and mid-sized cities, such as Muncie, Indiana. Dr. Emily Johnson, an Assistant Professor of History and an affiliate faculty member in African American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, realized that Muncie had a special story to tell after moving here in 2017.
While exploring the community, she came across the Mark III, which she soon discovered was the oldest gay bar in the state of Indiana. Established in 1968, the Mark III celebrated it’s 50th birthday in 2018. Fascinated by this Midwestern take on a niche bar, she decided to partner with the Muncie Public Library to pursue research in the community. After tackling the library’s goal of establishing the Mark III as historical site in Muncie, Dr. Johnson decided to take the next step to capture stories of the LGBTQ+ community in Muncie.
In the Spring of 2020, Dr. Johnson pioneered a course in oral history to train students with in-depth methodology that would prepare them for their future careers and research projects. This course was created with the goal of creating a unique undergraduate experience while also contributing to the reputable public history program that already exists at Ball State. Even with the newness of the course, two of her first students have gone onto to Master’s degrees in other prestigious history programs, including George Washington University.
Unique Undergraduate Experience
This class was designed to develop an immersive learning experience that couples with an emerging research project, setting it apart from other history classes. Rather than just telling students what to do and how to do it, Dr. Johnson allows students to debate different methodology and then make decisions about what they want to do in the field, giving them a more in-depth experience of what professionals do. By also involving undergraduate students, Dr. Johnson has had opportunity to reach new groups of people and expand her research.
A problem in oral history is that sample is so limited. You are limited to the kinds of people that want to talk to you, but through the immersive learning aspect of the class, each group of students are able to reach out to their own contacts or connections to increase what this project encompasses. – Dr. Emily Johnson
Emma Cieslik first enrolled in the course because of her interest in the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and religion. And after completing a restricted semester due to Covid-19, Emma began an independent study with Dr. Johnson that quickly turned into a funded undergraduate research fellowship. Over the course of her next semesters, she conducted eight more interviews and was granted the opportunity to tailor her questions to her own interests involving religion.
This class taught me so much about oral history methodology. Dr. Johnson taught me so much about how important the individual people are and showed me how I can best accomplish what I want to within the specific needs of the person. This was a really impactful experience that helped me give back to Muncie in a special way. – Emma Cieslik
Emma Cieslik, now a Ball State alumna, noted that this research project and immersive learning course is a distinctive experience that students can list on their resumes to make themselves stand out to future employers and graduate programs. The students co-author and co-create material, an opportunity that is unique to Ball State at the undergraduate level. This program helped Emma develop her own interest in changing the heteronormative historical narrative, which is what she is now pursuing in her graduate studies.
Dr. Johnson has created a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate research experience and has impacted my life in a substantial way. This project has helped create community not only between Ball State and Muncie, but also within Ball State and it’s own LGBTQ+ community.– Emma Cieslik
Besides continuing to capture stories and create community, Dr. Johnson shared that she has high goals for the future of this project and hopes to continue it for the length of her career. She shared that there is not huge pressure to publish this work because of her other projects, but this is actually playing to her advantage. The unhurried timeline lets students pursue their own interests and really learn through the project. Dr. Johnson is committed to teaching in this way and is excited to see where her students and the LGBTQ+ community of Muncie, IN takes her.