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.