Why should we care about oral history? It basically boils down to three words: primary source creation. If done well, an oral history interview is as valid as other primary sources — maps, photos, manuscripts, newspapers, artifacts, architecture, diaries, ledgers — the list goes on. Of course there are potential flaws, but that’s another post for another day. Overall, the benefits of oral history greatly outweigh the potential challenges.
I suppose my own passion for the discipline can be summed up (again) in three words: democratization of history. Or, as an anthropologist might say, oral history is a leveling mechanism for recorded history. This field is a powerful way to balance out the written account of history with multiple perspectives. I’m saying nothing new here.
One of the great things about working for an oral history repository like the Center is that we have the opportunity to collaborate with individuals and groups to create new oral history projects. We are able to witness and participate in research that contributes to the present and future understanding of historical and/or cultural phenomena. It is fantastic to see how oral history interviews aid the pursuit of a project: whether helping a student with a thesis, documenting a heretofore unrecorded event, adding an interactive element to a teacher’s classroom project, or providing a way for community members to learn about their history. Oral history is a fulfilling endeavor for anyone who tries it.
So my questions for you today are:
Have you done any oral histories? If so, what were some of your rewarding experiences? Challenges? Disappointments?
What do you want to know more about regarding this process?
What oral history experiments are you considering in the future?
– Jennifer Abraham