The Los Angeles Times has recently published a story – “StoryCorps’ Audio History of 9/11” – about StoryCorps and its contribution to the oral history of that terrible day in September 2001. This story focuses on Beverly Eckert who lost her husband that day. She recalls her telephone conversation with him until he died. You can listen to her story through the link attached to the word “recalling”. This story demonstrates the value of StoryCorps and we are pleased that we now have an equivalent in Australia – The Story Project.
This is a very interesting newspaper article from the New York Times which discusses the possibility that oral histories collected in the 1990s may be subpoenaed by the British government. They were collected on the understanding they would not be published till after the death of the interviewees. The article raises an issue that some interviewers may need to be aware of when doing interviews of a particularly sensitive nature related to some historical events. Your comments are welcome. See New York Times Here is another article on the same topic which says if the subpoena is successful, all other interviews may have to be destroyed to prevent them being subpoenaed, click here. As at 18 June 2011 there is more on this story with a radio interview, click here.
Sunday night’s ABC1’s “Compass” program at 10.10 pm 24/4/2011 will feature interviews with some of the “forgotten” people who are not always thought about on ANZAC Day – war widows. One of the women featured is Olwyn Green who tragically lost her husband in the Korean War. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Olwyn in 2004. She has devoted much of her life to ensuring Australians don’t forget the so-called “forgotten war”. She has interviewed many Korean War veterans and written a book about her husband – The Name’s Still Charlie.
Oral history preserves the past in a unique way. Although initially used to record the memories of influential people, it soon became a technique for recording the experiences of ordinary people, particularly those whose voices have been ignored or silenced.
Oral history recordings not only preserve memories but also voices. Every interviewee shares stories in their own words. The tone, the inflections and the emotions in each voice are captured, adding depth and meaning to their words.
“Oral history is a picture of the past in people’s own words”. Beth Robertson, The Oral History Handbook, 2000
Oral tradition, stories and memories have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. However the modern definition of oral history refers to tape recorded interviews. The term was coined in the 1940s by Columbia University historian Allan Nevins.
- Oral history interviews are recorded using question and answer format.
- A well-prepared interviewer has knowledge of the subject to be discussed gained through background research.
- The person interviewed shares memories from personal participation or knowledge of the subject.
- Potential subjects for oral history interviews are boundless, however most have historical interest and value.
- Practitioners of oral history are encouraged to make the results of their interviews available to other researchers.