Oral History

Oct. 8

I find the term ‘oral history’ a difficult one to grasp and define. As “The Oral History” suggests, oral history is no longer just stories/history that has been orally passed down to others. Now, it is a compilation of interviews, audiotapes, videotapes, and other methods of that sort. I relate with the fact that oral history helps provide different perspectives on one event. That is what I love most about history in general, is not necessarily to maintain an objective perspective, because I believe that bias is inevitable, but to consult a wide variety of views to reach a conclusion. Furthermore, I, personally, linger on the past and am a very nostalgic person, so discussing events or history with someone versus reading that in a book, is significantly more gratifying and enjoyable. The emotion and particular details remembered are what I am most intrigued by. Does it really matter if something is not ‘fact’ when being translated via oral history? What exactly is fact? In this, I am referring to the British and Northern Ireland folklore stories that might not necessarily be ‘factual’ but they are part of the United Kingdom’s history nonetheless. Thus, I definitely like the legal definition and importance of oral history, in that it is just as reliable of a source as written history, because it should be viewed as that, and I often find that this is overlooked.

Understandably, relying on oral history in the past was more difficult because of the lack of recording materials, but eyewitness testimonies were still of great important in ancient times for example as Paul Thompson suggests in Thomson’s article (Thomson, 51). He outlines the development of oral history, which I find to be a very interesting history in itself, particularly in the amount of creditability it has been given over time. “Words and experiences” as Thomson states, are crucial in understanding events and the development of people (Thomson, 52). It is this historic evolution that is most important – the experiences of the people and their view of it. These various paradigms help shed light on the different ways that oral history has evolved, been defined, and been relied on over time. There is a multitude of different websites that are archives for oral history, the one that I favor is the WPA Slave interviews. The reason being, slavery happened, these people were slaves. Does it matter if their dates were off or they recollect the Civil War differently? I do not think so. I think that the ‘factual’ details need to be overlooked — the emotional attitude and way the stories are narrated is what we should focus on.

We all remember events differently, as Savage nots. For example, the 9/11 interviews are all significantly different. I have a few family friends who were part of that project, because I too lived in New York City at the time of the plane crashes. I remember it differently than most people too. Our various historical recollections are not necessarily factual, but they represent the way each person lived through such an event. Thus, sometimes the facts are not the most important.


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