Oral History


Since the late 1940s, oral history has transformed the practice of contemporary history in many countries. The most distinctive contribution of oral history has been to record the experiences and perspectives of groups of people who might otherwise have been hidden from history. Researchers from universities, schools, community groups, and development projects have all proved to be adept practitioners. Oral historians have drawn upon different intellectual disciplines—including history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and linguistics—to better understand the creation and interpretation of memory, and they have worked alongside museum curators, artists, and media professionals to create public histories that combine sound, image, and text. In certain projects, a primary aim has been the empowerment of individuals or social groups, with an emphasis on the value of process as much as historical product. Yet oral history has generated fierce debates about memory and history, the interview relationship, the interpretation of people’s lives, and history as advocacy. This entry examines these debates and the distinctive nature and contribution of oral history. It recognises that oral history is simultaneously a method (the interview), a methodology (a set of practices and principles about creating, interpreting, preserving, and presenting recorded memories), and a movement which engages the members of oral history associations all over the world and through which practitioners record and use oral history not just to contribute to historical understanding but also as a force for social and political change.

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