Why Oral History?

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

Posted in Updates
3 comments on “Why Oral History?
  1. David Brewin says:

    Most of my histories have had a video component tied in with them and I have to say that most of them have been very rewarding. It’s a privelege to get to know someone on the level that sometimes occurs. I guess the biggest challenge is to gain someone’s trust enough to really talk to you. The biggest disappointment to me is often that the people that I have interviewed are pretty old and they die. I still miss some of them. I’m going to go back and talk to relatives of some of the people that I interviewed almost 20 years ago and talk about some of the same things and see what has changed over the years.

  2. Chris R. says:

    So true. We are losing oral history as an art form.

  3. Ryan says:

    Hello there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?

    Thanks a lot!

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