The advanced seminar on Life Stories (Psy 377, originally called Autobiographical Memory & Reminiscence) uses life stories to learn about memory and adult development. In the first few weeks we develop a common set of experiences by sharing some of our own life stories and reading autobiographies of people who were centenarians, middle-aged adults, young adults, or a child when they recorded their stories. We then explore the current psychological research about autobiographical memory, the importance of life stories, and the functions of reminiscing. The major assignment is to interview a member of the broader community who is at least 50 years old (Dr. Multhaup arranges the partners) at least six times and tell that person’s life story in a series of web pages that include digital audio, video, and graphics. These case studies of our Community Partners’ life stories enrich students’ understanding of the theoretical material as well as foster intergenerational conversations.
The life stories recorded by the students are celebrated the following spring with a reception on campus (link to each year’s event under the Story Celebrations linked at the top of the page). The Community Partners are encouraged to invite their friends and family members to join the seminar members at the reception. Dr. Multhaup explains the project to the guests and students introduce their Community Partners. All guests are then invited to explore the web pages and students give electronic copies of their final product to their Community Partners to share with their families (e.g., on flash drives). The final step is that our Community Partners decide on the privacy level they wish to apply to their pages. Several have chosen to keep them private, a number require a Davidson College log-in to access the site, and many are open access.
The seminar relies on the generous support of our Community Partners, the engagement and creativity of the Davidson students who enroll (each listed with their Community Partner here), and the able assistance of the Davidson College Academic Technology staff including Mur Muchane (2001-2011), Kristen Eshleman (2001-2011), Mike Reott (2001), Marc Naples (2003), Kyosung Koo (2005), Paul Brantley (2007-present), Robert McSwain (2007-2011), Katie Wilkes (2015), and Peter Carolla (2015).
For psychology faculty members interested in developing a similar course, you can see an example syllabus and reading list with discussion questions in the Special Topics section of the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology (OTRP) Project Syllabus web page or directly at this link. The seminar sharpens oral communication skills with student-led discussion of readings and professional writing skills with responses to prompts to reflect on the readings. Students learn, or sharpen, skills in web page creation and writing for a general audience.
For people who have questions about the seminar or these web pages, please contact the professor, Dr. Kristi Multhaup (firstname.lastname@example.org).