Preparing for the Interview Process.

Oral history, like any other discipline has strict guidelines and procedures. As a relative newcomer to oral history, I have more experience analyzing primary sources rather than actually taking part in the creation of those sources. Learning the craft has been a complex yet enlightening experience. A certain level of responsibility comes along with the task of documenting history. To ensure the validity of this documentation, it is important to follow standards that maintain credibility. Working with actual real people adds another level responsibility. When you relive events, especially traumatic events, you also relive how you felt at that time. This brings forth the question, how do you ethically deal with emotional people? Our task as oral historians is to most accurately capture an event in history through transcribing interviews with people who lived through the event. Strong emotional reactions however can change how someone may retell that event. This is why oral history standards are so important: to best create an environment of objectivity. To prepare for this I also took part in this project as an interviewee. Sitting on the other side of table I experienced what participants in this project will go through. It truly does bring out emotion. Our project especially has to focus on this as Hurricane Sandy victims have being through severe trauma. It has been a truly enlightening experience learning how to balance creating an accurate primary historical source, while at the same time doing justice to the stories of Sandy’s disaster victims.

-Arij H. Syed


During the Storm I was living in Union Beach and I had family members living in Keansburg, two of the three towns we will be focusing on. While I personally had a traumatic experience, that is a story for a different post.

Last weekend I took a trip to my family’s home in Keansburg and it was depressing to see the shell of a house that is taking forever to fix and even the shell of a town.

What was the kitchen

What was the kitchen. Taken by Brittany Le Strange

This was my families kitchen, the room that took the biggest hit. Walking through the house brought on memories of better times spent with my family. Especially all the times spent in the kitchen baking with my cousin.

After walking through the house we drove through the town and it was like driving through a ghost town. So many houses with the orange stickers symbolizing that they are unlivable.

Destroyed houses in Keansburg, NJ. Taken by Brittany Le Strange

Destroyed houses in Keansburg, NJ. Taken by Brittany Le Strange


Taken By Brittany Le Strange

Taken By Brittany Le Strange

These are houses around the corner from my family. This is where the dune broke letting the water rush into the town more rapidly. The houses are all destroyed and empty left abandoned. This is months after the storm and not much has been done. Makes one wonder how long it will be before real progress is made.

Staring out to Sea: An Origins Story

This semester, as part of a Kean University seminar on advanced oral history methods, we are working to develop a longitudinal oral history project that will document the stories of Superstorm Sandy.

This blog will tell the story of that development process.

We’ve spent the past several weeks discussing the history of oral history and the role that oral history has played in chronicling significant disasters in the United States, and we’ve been studying the Best Practices guidelines from the Oral History Association.  And now we’re beginning to define the scope and parameters of our own project.

At first, we tried to start with a title.

But we quickly realized that until we had a better sense of what the project would look like, all attempts at titles were clunky, cliched, and far too general.

So we took a different approach.  We discussed what themes we wanted to address, what topics we wanted to explore, what communities we wanted to get to know, and people we wanted to interview.

Finally, after an entire class session of making lists, we landed on our project.

And last night, Staring out to Sea: The Story of Superstorm Sandy in Three Bayshore Communities was born.

As the title suggests, the project will focus on three communities right along the Sandy Hook Bay – Union Beach, Keansburg, and Port Monmouth.

The Keansburg Amusement Park was in the path of the storm.
Photo c/o

We chose this area for several reasons:

(1) These communities were all significantly impacted by the storm itself.

(2) Though geographically close, these communities are quite socioeconomically diverse, and so they will afford us the opportunity to consider the different variables associated with the issues of power, access, and resources in the storm recovery efforts.

(3) These communities are located directly across the bay from Staten Island, one of the hardest hit areas in New York and a region that’s received significant attention in the local, regional, and national press.  There are already oral history efforts taking place in Staten Island, and our hope is that eventually we can take part in a larger project to document the storm and recovery throughout the Sandy Hook Bay region.

So, follow along as we reflect on our own efforts to collect, process, and present the stories of Superstorm Sandy’s impact on the Bayshore region.

And if you’d like to get involved, leave us a comment!