OHMA EXHIBITS: a collection of interactive oral history encounters

Real World History: Generations in Conversation (2021)

by Max Peterson

In the fall of 2014, Cosby Hunt piloted an after-school, applied history course for high school students in Washington, DC. Through a semester-long oral history project, students do a deep dive on the Great Migration. In this video, Cosby discusses the importance of positioning students as experts and reflects on his personal connection to the course.

Video script with visual descriptions

[Fade in from black, Cosby Hunt, the narrator of the video, is seated before a bookshelf. Cosby is a middle-aged Black man with a grey goatee. He is wearing a black, button-up shirt, which is unbuttoned, allowing for his red undershirt to be partially visible. Next to Cosby on a table is a framed photograph of Cosby and his wife, Michelle. The bookshelf behind Cosby is filled with books, binders, and CDs. There are also some photographs sitting on the shelves as well as a decorative LP with a painting of Prince on it.

Cosby Hunt: And then I get to talk about the Drake theory. That if you take this class, [gestures as if holding a large stack of papers] here's the stack of applications at the school, the college that you're gonna want to go to.

[Fade to black as Cosby continues speaking. Text appears on screen: “Cosby Hunt, Teacher/Creator of Real World History.”]

And you know, for whatever reason, maybe it's alphabetical, you’re, [gestures to the middle of the stack] your application is right here in the middle.

[Jump cut back to Cosby]

But then, they notice that you have that internship at the Library of Congress. Or that you were the only high school kid in America who had an internship at Ford's Theater—

[Instrumental of “Started from the Bottom” by Drake fades in as Cosby speaks.]

—or the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And all of a sudden—. What did Drake say? Started from the bottom—?" [Moves hand upward from the middle of the stack]

[Fade to black as Cosby continues speaking. Text appears on screen: “Yes, he’s been recycling that line since 2013.”]

You know, crickets. Or, or, or people hiding! You know? And I say, “I know it's painful when a—”

[Fade back to Cosby]

“—fifty-year-old man is quoting your hip-hop heroes." But I make 'em say, I say, "Started from the bottom—?" And then some, some kind kid is like, "Now we're here."

[Laughter. Fade to black as Cosby continues speaking.]

[Fading out] Which, you know, I can’t use that anymore. That song is what? Ten years…

[Text appears on screen as Cosby’s narration fades: “Dad jokes aside, why might a student be interested in Real World History?”]

line break

[Jump cut to classroom footage. Two students can be seen quietly reading a printed article. The camera zooms out slightly to reveal another student in the foreground of the shot. The student nearest to the camera is quietly reading the article aloud to themselves.]

Cosby: So one of the things that Inspired Teaching stands on is this idea of student as expert.

[Jump cut to footage of another two students quietly reading, one article between the two students.]

That everyone has expertise, and our students in particular have expertise.

[Jump cut to a student presenting to a group of adults seated before them.]

And we need to give them opportunities to showcase it, or to develop it. And so one way to—

[Jump cut to a close-up of one of the adults listening to the student’s presentation.]

—build expertise is to do a deep-dive.

[Jump cut to a close-up of the student responding to the adults’ questions.]

And it's very clear that the students become experts, in a way, by doing the real work of history

[Dip to black. An image of two students recording an oral history interview with an elderly man appears. One of the students is flipping through a scrapbook of family photographs and the narrator is pointing to a particular photo with a plastic fork.]

—through the oral history project. And then, in the second semester—

[Dip to black. Footage of a plastic sign at a reception desk appears. Visible is a line drawing of the north side of the White House, one of the logos of the White House Historical Association. The camera pans up to show the message: “The next Decatur House Tour meets here at 11:00a.m.”]

—they have an internship and they're getting some—

[Jump cut to a student presenting to a group of visitors at their internship site. The student’s supervisor can be seen looking on approvingly.]

—expertise there. And, instead of Mr. Hunt telling them—

[Jump cut to a student opening the flaps of a tri-fold poster board. As the student spreads the board open, the camara pans upward showing the student’s National History Day exhibition about Dr. Angela Davis.]

—what they're gonna be studying, they get to choose a topic that they want to research—

[Jump cut to footage of two students waiing to screen their group documentary at the DC National History Day contest. In the foreground of the shot is a sign that says, “National History Day City-wide Competition. Senior Individual Documentary.”]

—and they do that through National History Day. But—

[Jump cut to footage of Cosby Hunt playing a student interview on a handheld recorder. The shot is an extreme close-up of the recorder in Cosby’s hand.]

—oral history is one of those ways to help students become experts—

[Jump cut to classroom footage of students doing group work developing questions for their narrators. The shot is a close-up of two students, one of whom is speaking.]

—like they lead the interview, they write the questions.

[Jump cut to a student writing an interview question on a large piece of paper on a wall. The shot is a close-up over the student’s right shoulder. The student is in the process of writing: “Did you experience any redlining—?” As Cosby continues speaking there is a jump cut to an extreme close-up of a student writing an interview question on an index card. The student is in the process of writing: “I know that eventually DC became a majority black city, did you see that—?]

You can do a research paper and learn a whole lot, but you're not sitting down—

[Jump cut to a photograph of a student recording an oral history interview with an elderly woman. Both individuals are seated on a couch. The student is on the left side of the frame holding her smartphone (the recorder) toward the narrator who is on the right.]

—with a human being and interacting.

[Jump cut to a photograph of a student talking with their narrator at the Phillips Collection. The student (standing, right) and narrator (seated, left) are in the foreground of the shot. Panels from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series are visible on the wall in the background of the shot.]

And having to improvise questions.

[Jump cut to a photograph of two students recording an oral history interview at a table with an elderly man. The narrator is in the foreground of the shot with his back to the camera. The students, on the other side of the table, are facing the camera. The narrator and students are looking down at photographs on the table.]

Student Interviewer: “Deacon, tell me a little bit more about your hometown.”

Cosby Hunt: So, the student—

[Dip to black. A photograph appears of a student and their narrator posing for a photo. The narrator is seated, and the student is standing with their hand on the back of the narrator’s chair.]

—sits down with another human being and—

[Dip to black. A photograph appears of a student and their narrator posing for a photo. Both the narrator and the student are standing, and the student has their arm over the narrator’s shoulders.]

—gets their, not their whole life story, but significant aspects—

[Dip to black. A photograph appears of a student and their narrator posing for a photo. Both the narrator and the student are standing. The narrator has his left arm over the student’s shoulders and the two are shaking hands.]

—of their life story in this interview, and—

[Dip to Black. Footage of Cosby Hunt reading The Warmth of Other Suns appears. The shot is an extreme close-up of the cover of the book. The shot then shifts upward to reveal Cosby reading the book aloud.]

—reads this book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and becomes [pause] very knowledgeable about the Great Migration:

[Jump cut to the book, The Warmth of Other Suns, laying on a table on top of some papers.]

The movement of over six million Black folks to cities in the North and West. If you open up your textbook—

[Jump cut to footage of Cosby standing at the front of the class giving direct instruction. Cosby is facing the camera. The shot opens as a close-up of Cosby but pulls back to show Cosby from the waist up.]

—it might get a half a page. And yet, it is an incredibly important movement that has affected how our cities look.

[Fade to Black. An adaptation of Panel No. 58 of The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence fades in. The painting depicts three girls writing on a chalkboard with their backs to the viewer. In this adaptation, the three girls are writing the words "Real World History" instead of 2, 3, 4, as they are in the original work].

line break

[Text appears on screen: “Teaching Real World History after teaching during the regular school day is a lot of work. What does the class mean to you personally?” Fade to black.]

Cosby Hunt: It's certainly something that—

[A family portrait of Cosby Hunt and his parents, Ike and Betty, fades in. A young Cosby is in the center of the photo. Cosby’s mother is on the left and his father is on the right.]

—helps me stay connected to my parents.

[Dip to black. A black-and-white photo of Cosby’s father, Ike, and his parents (Cosby’s paternal grandparents) appears on screen. All three figures are standing in the photo and are well-dressed. A young Ike is in the middle with his father on his right and his mother on his left.]

The Great Migration is part of my dad's story—

[Dip to black. A photograph of Cosby’s father, Ike, standing in a tobacco field appears. Ike is wearing a polo and sunglasses and has his hands on his hips.]

—whether he would admit it or not;

[Dip to black. A postcard of Panel No. 1 of The Migration Series, by Jacob Lawrence appears. The painting depicts a crowded train terminal with masses of Black people crowding into three doorways labeled, “Chicago,” “New York,” and “St. Louis,” respectively.]

I know about Jacob Lawrence because of my mother, and think about her whenever I—

[Dip to black. A photograph of Cosby and his mother, Betty, in front of a Christmas tree fades in. Betty has her left arm around Cosby’s waist, and Cosby has his right arm over his mother’s shoulders.]

—see those panels, and so—. So yeah, personally, it—

[Dip to black. A photograph of Cosby and his parents at Cosby’s college graduation fades in. Cosby is in the middle of the photo with his mother on his right and his father on his left. Cosby’s parents are well-dressed, and Cosby is in a graduation gown with a stole around his neck.]

—it connects me to my late parents, and that's a blessing beyond measure.

[Fade to black. Footage of Cosby walking down the hallway of a school fades in. Cosby has his back to the camera, and the camera is moving with Cosby as he walks.]

Part of the reason why I teach is a selfish desire to live forever in the hearts and minds of young people.

[Jump cut to footage of Cosby and Real World History students posing for a group photo. Cosby is in the center of the shot kneeling down, along with two students, in front of the group. As all the students point to Cosby, Cosby says, “No middle fingers, please,” causing the whole group to laugh.]

And, the students’ work is gonna live on in ways that we don't quite know yet.

[Jump cut to footage of Cosby congratulating a Real World History student on their National History Day performance. When the student explains that they didn’t forget any lines, Cosby and the student high-five.]

And that's cool. And my parents along with it, which is nice.

[Fade to black. Text appears on screen: “Interviews: - DC Public Library, People’s Archive, Dig DC, Oral History Interview with Cosby Hunt session 5 & session 6. Music: - ‘Started From The Bottom’ (Instrumental) by Drake. Footage: - Classroom footage courtesy of WETA. Photographs: - Personal collection of Cosby Hunt. Fade to black]

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Real World History program.

Explore the Real World History Oral History Collection at the DC Public Library.

This video was developed by Max Peterson, co-teacher of Real World History, in connection to his thesis project for the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University. The interviews featured in this video are part of a series of interviews with Cosby Hunt publicly accessible at the DC Public Library.

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