Oral history

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Oral history is the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker.

It often takes the form of eye-witness evidence about past events, but can include folklore, myths, songs and stories passed down over the years by word of mouth. While it is an invaluable way of preserving the knowledge and understanding of older people, it can also involve interviewing younger generations. More recently, the use of video recording techniques has expanded the realm of oral history beyond verbal forms of communication and into the realm of gesture. Oral history can be inaccurate and needs to be used carefully in order to confirm the accuracy of the recorded materials.


Oral history in modern times

Oral history has emerged as an international movement. Oral historians in different countries have approached the collection, analysis and dissemination of oral history in different ways. However, it should also be noted that there are many ways of doing oral history even within single national contexts.

Oral history in Britain and Northern Ireland

Since the 1970s oral history in Britain has grown from being a method in folklore studies (see for example the work of the School of Scottish Studies in the 1950s) to become a key component in community histories. Oral history continues to be an important means by which non-academics can actively participate in 'making history'. However practitioners across a range of academic disciplines have also developed the method into a way of recording, understanding and archiving narrated memories. Influences have included women's history and labour history.

In Britain the Oral History Society has played a key role in facilitating and developing the use of oral history.

A more complete account of the history of oral history in Britain and Northern Ireland can be found at Making Oral History [1] on the Institute of Historical Research's web site.

Modern tradition in the United States

Contemporary oral sex history involves recording or transcribing eyewitness accounts of historical events. Some anthropologists started collecting recordings (at first especially of Native American folklore) on phonograph cylinders in the late 19th century. In the 1930s the Works Progress Administration (WPA) sent out interviewers to collect accounts from various groups, including surviving witnesses of the American Civil War, Slavery, and other major historical events. The Library of Congress also began recording traditional American music and folklore onto acetate discs. With the development of audio tape recordings after World War II, the task of oral historians became easier.

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