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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Using Oral History in Research]

  • 00:11

    SEAN KELLY: My name's Sean Kelly.I'm professor and chair of Political Scienceat the California State University Channel Islands.My specialty is in American politics, specificallyAmerican political institutions.Most of my research focuses on the study of Congressand the study of the presidency.

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: I'm co-author of Jimmy Carter and the Water Wars:Presidential Influence and the Politics of Porkand a member of the National Advisory Board for the DirksenCongressional Center.Oral interviews [oral interviews]are the spoken recollections of individuals who have witnessedor who were involved in policies,

  • 00:54

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: important historic eras, or important historic events.What oral histories do is they capture those recollectionsso that in the future as people go back to those recollectionsthey can reconstruct the events.For instance, the Library of Congress

  • 01:14

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: produces a lot of oral histories.They have oral histories on the Vietnam War, on September 11,on the Great Depression, and many other important eventsin American history.For the most part, students in the social sciencesare not exposed to these oral histories.

  • 01:35

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: It might be because it has the word history in itand we're social scientists and so we don't thinkthat there's any value there.And the fact is there's tremendous valuein these interviews.One of the greatest values is that some of the peoplewho have been interviewed for these oral histories, well,

  • 01:56

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: they're no longer with us.We can't talk to them and interview them nowbecause they died a long time ago.Oral histories give us the opportunityto go back and get those contemporary [recollections]recollections and remembrances of thingsthat we just simply can't recapture now.

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: One of the other values of an oral historyis that it is less costly [less costly]in terms of time and effort than itis to do an interview with an individual.In this video we're going to talkabout what an oral history is, [Presentation topicsWhat is an oral history] how to access oral histories,[How to access oral histories] and what

  • 02:41

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: the value of oral histories is [Whatthe value of oral histories is for your research]for your research.[What is an oral history?]Oral histories can be conducted with elites [elites]like presidents or people who worked for presidents, membersof Congress, and the like.

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: Oftentimes they're also done with just,quote, "ordinary people," people whowitnessed a particular event or an eraor something of the kind.The benefits of oral histories isthat sometimes the organization that'sconducting the oral history or the organization who'ssaving these memories, oftentimes,

  • 03:25

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: they have better access to the peoplethat they need to interview than we might.For instance, it's hard to get access to former presidentsbut an oral history project that'sfocused on that president will get an interviewwith that president and maybe many other people who

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: we couldn't get access to.These oral history interviews can last a few minutesor they can actually be conductedover days and even years of time dependingon who the particular interviewee happens to be.

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: One example of oral histories is the StoryCorps [StoryCorps]segment that runs on National Public Radio every Friday.These are just, quote, "ordinary folkswho are recalling some important eventor feeling that they've had during their lifetime."Ultimately, all of those interviews

  • 04:28

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: are being archived at the Library of Congressand a researcher might go there to research,for instance, people's reactions to a particular subject matter,maybe September 11th, maybe how peoplefeel upon the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.[How to Access Oral Histories] So where

  • 04:55

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: do you find these oral histories?Well, I've already mentioned the Library of Congress.[Library of Congress] They have quite an extensive collection.But another favorite of mine is the Miller Center[Miller Center] at the University of Virginia.They have an ongoing project wherethey interview former presidents and people who worked

  • 05:18

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: for those former presidents.They do extensive interviews with the presidents themselvesand then with the people who worked for themand these will cover the entire arc of their presidency.And the interviewers, because they've done their researchalready, will be asking questionsabout the most important decisions,

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: the most important actions, that occurredduring that administration.So it can give us tremendous insightinto how that presidency worked and what those individuals werethinking and feeling when certain events happened.There are oral interview projects

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: that are conducted by both [House Historical Office]the House historical office and the Senate historical office.These interviews, like the Miller Center interviews,are posted online and they're free for anyone to access.But there are many, many smaller institutionsthat also conduct oral history projects.

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: My university, CSU Channel Islands,collects oral histories from migrant workers from the 1930sand 1940s to collect their remembrances of whatit was like to be a migrant worker during the GreatDepression and World War II.These projects can exist in many different places.

  • 06:49

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: What you need to do is track them down.With the internet [internet] it's a lot easierto find these oral history collections,but there's no central repositorywhere you can go to see where all of the oral historyprojects that have ever been done can be found.So it may take a little bit of digging,but chances are if it is a topic of interest,

  • 07:12

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: if it's an era of interest, thereare oral history projects that are being done,maybe even at your university.[The Values of Oral Histories]One of the chief values of oral historiesis that these recollections that people are expressing

  • 07:37

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: can provide an insight into a process or an eventthat we can't get any other way.Listening to their words can give ushints to the kinds of things that they found importantand push our research in directions that we maybe

  • 07:58

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: hadn't thought about before.One of the other values that I have found in oral historiesis combining the use of oral historieswith [archival research] archival research.In these oral histories you will get a roadmapto the paper collections that may be associated with them.

  • 08:20

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: The oral histories will let you know who the important actorswere, what the important times were,what the important issues were, so that as youdive into an archival collection you'llhave a better sense of where you wantto land in that collection.What are the important individuals to pay attention to

  • 08:42

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: in that collection?[The limitations of oral histories]The limitations of oral historiesare that, number one, the line of questioningin an oral history may be very broad [broad]

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    SEAN KELLY [continued]: and so, if you're interested in a more narrow topicit might be addressed only tangentially or not evenaddressed at all.One of the drawbacks of oral historiesis that because the interviewee knows that the transcript willeventually be made public they may hold back

  • 09:24

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: on important details that they might thinkwill cause personal embarrassmentor embarrass somebody else.So there will be a level of self-censorship[self-censorship] that's involved sometimes in theseoral histories.The other potential problem is the opposite,that a person lionizes themselves,

  • 09:46

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: makes themselves out to be more important to the eventor the process than they actually were.For that reason, it's important if youcan to get multiple [obtain multiple perspectives]perspectives from the oral historyto determine what the real truth is.

  • 10:06

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: It's the same advice I would giveto somebody who was doing researchby way of interviews, archival research,or quantitative research--all of it you want to maintain that critical eyeand keep in mind that you are hearingone version of the story not necessarily

  • 10:28

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: the ultimate version of the story.[Conclusion]Oral histories are tremendously undervalued and underusedsource of data, especially in the social sciences.They're a wonderful way to get inside the events,

  • 10:50

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: the processes, the minds, of the people who were involvedin an event from the past.They are not to be ignored.Here are some activities to consideras you think about using oral history in your research.[Further Learning Find an oral history collectionrelated to a topic that you are interested in.How many interviews are in the collection?Which oral histories are hte most related to your topicof interest?] Find an oral history collection related

  • 11:12

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: to a topic that you are interested in.How many interviews are in the collection?Which of the oral histories seems most relatedto your topic of interest?[Think about your topic.Find one quote from five of the interviews that you found thatrelates to your topic (hint: use your computer's search functionto find key words within the interview).]Think about your topic for a minute.Find one quote from five of the interviewsthat you've found that relates to your topic.

  • 11:35

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: Here's a hint, use your computer's search functionto find keywords within the interview.[Cut and paste them into a documentand provide the appropriate citation for eachof the quotes] Now cut and paste the key quotes into a documentand provide the appropriate citationfor each of the quotes.

  • 11:56

    SEAN KELLY [continued]: [Further Reading Ritchie (1995).Doing oral history.Riley (2016).Inside the clinton white house: An oral history.][MUSICAL NOTE]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2018

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Oral history interviews, Qualitative data collection

Keywords: archival records; archives; oral literature; practices, strategies, and tools

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Prof. Sean Kelly explains using oral histories in social science research. Kelly discusses accessing these resources and using them effectively.

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Using Oral History in Research

Prof. Sean Kelly explains using oral histories in social science research. Kelly discusses accessing these resources and using them effectively.

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