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Oral history and farmworker studies

Jonathan Hagood (History Department, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Clara Schriemer (Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 24 October 2017

Issue publication date: 26 February 2018



The purpose of this paper is to explore three sociocultural themes common to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and to demonstrate the value of incorporating oral history into healthcare practice and quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods research programs, as oral history is a culturally sensitive approach to working with vulnerable populations.


This paper examines 17 oral histories from farmworkers residing in Ottawa County, Michigan, in the late summer of 2014. The theoretical framework section has two aims. First, it explains the significance of “cultural sensitivity” and “deep structure” to the practice of effective healthcare. Second, it introduces oral history as a form of deep structure cultural sensitivity.


Three themes emerge from the collected oral histories: stress/anxiety of undocumented status, honor/worth of honest work, and the importance of educating migrant children. Undocumented status is found to be the hub of farmworker health inequities while worth of work and education are described as culturally sensitive points of conversation for healthcare workers engaging with this population. Finally, oral history is found to be a useful method for establishing the deep structure of cultural sensitivity.


This paper gives a voice to farmworkers, an inconspicuous population that disproportionately suffers from health inequities. In addition, this paper acts as a case study promoting the use of oral history as a novel, culturally sensitive research method.



Research support was provided by Hope College’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities.


Hagood, J. and Schriemer, C. (2018), "Oral history and farmworker studies", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 30-40.



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