The Veterans Empathy Project is an ongoing work in oral history focused on the experience of U.S. military personnel. The project takes its name from the importance of trying to imagine other perspectives and experiences, a personal act to be developed as a social practice essential to democracy and, in turn, necessary for re-integrating veterans back into their communities and civilian lives. The Veterans Empathy Project is a collaborative effort. It is also meant to be interactive. The videotaped interviews—In Their Own Words—are searchable by subject and other keywords.
Created by the late historian John Pettegrew of Lehigh University, the project initially focused on the experience of post-9/11 veterans in the hopes of advancing scholarly understanding of early-21st century warfighting and sparking public discussion of military service and the obligation of citizenship. While these goals continue to inform the project, the scope of the Veterans Empathy Project has grown drastically in recent years to include veterans who served during peacetime and prior to 9/11. In addition, the project now aims to create a more holistic appreciation for the military community by interviewing military spouses, healthcare providers, educators, activists and politicians.
In 2016, Evan Reibsome joined John as Co-Director of the project. He is an Assistant Professor of American literature at Louisiana State University, Shreveport, whose research examines the literature of war and peace in the United States since the Civil War. Following the passing of John in 2018, Evan became the director of the project.
With civic engagement in mind, the project asks:
• What are the primary motivations to join the U.S. Armed Forces
• Do those motivations include the experience of war?
• Does military training carryover to civilian life?
• What are the most important aspects of being in combat?
• Who should be responsible for the nation’s defense?