How to do oral history

Oral history is a form of primary source. Oral history can bring out the personal stories of people living in an area over much of the twentieth century, though some people may also relate stories that have been passed on to them from their parents or grandparents and so it is sometimes possible to glean a little information about the late nineteenth century too. Oral histories can help the elderly or excluded feel that their stories are important and are being heard and bring together different parts of the community.


Talking about the past

As with primary written sources, one has to always remember that events will be reported from a point of view, whether that is intentional or not. With oral history there is also the problem of memory. Events may not be well remembered or may have been built on over the years and acquired elements that were not present in the first telling.


However, oral history when used well can tell a human story about how larger events affected people at a local level, how a settlement has changed over the years where there is little written evidence or simply how it felt growing up in a certain era with a different way of life than today. Oral history records the living memories and feelings of all kinds of people, many otherwise hidden from history, and creates a more vivid picture of our past. Advice on how to do ethical oral history research can be found at:


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