oral history

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Related to oral history: oral tradition

oral history,

compilation of historical data through interviews, usually tape-recorded and sometimes videotaped, with participants in, or observers of, significant events or times. Primitive societies have long relied on oral tradition to preserve a record of the past in the absence of written histories. In Western society, the use of oral material goes back to the early Greek historians HerodotusHerodotus
, 484?–425? B.C., Greek historian, called the Father of History, b. Halicarnassus, Asia Minor. Only scant knowledge of his life can be gleaned from his writings and from references to him by later writings, notably the Suda.
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 (in his history of the Persian Wars) and ThucydidesThucydides
, c.460–c.400 B.C., Greek historian of Athens, one of the greatest of ancient historians. His family was partly Thracian. As a general in the Peloponnesian War he failed (424 B.C.
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 (in his History of the Peloponnesian War), both of whom made extensive use of oral reports from witnesses. The modern concept of oral history was developed in the 1940s by Allan NevinsNevins, Allan,
1890–1971, American historian, b. Camp Point, Ill. After studying at the Univ. of Illinois, he followed a career in journalism until 1927. Teaching at Columbia from 1928, he became a full professor in 1931 and was made De Witt Clinton professor of American
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 and his associates at Columbia Univ. In creating oral histories, interviews are conducted to obtain information from different perspectives, many of which are often unavailable from written sources. Such materials provide data on individuals, families, important events, or day-to-day life.

The discipline came into its own in the 1960s and early 70s when inexpensive tape recorders were available to document such social movements as civil rights, feminism, and anti–Vietnam War protest. Authors such as Studs TerkelTerkel, Studs,
1912–2008, American writer, social historian, and radio and television personality, b. the Bronx, N.Y., as Louis Terkel, grad. Univ. of Chicago (Ph.B. 1932, J.D. 1934).
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, Alex Haley, and Oscar LewisLewis, Oscar,
1914–70, American anthropologist, b. New York City, grad. City College of New York (B.S.S., 1936) and Columbia (Ph.D., 1940). He was a professor of anthropology at Washington Univ. (St. Louis) from 1946 to 1948 and after that at the Univ. of Illinois.
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 employed oral history in their books, many of which are largely based on interviews. In another important example of the genre, a massive archive covering the oral history of American music was compiled at the Yale School of Music. Oral history had become a respected discipline in many colleges and universities by the end of the 20th cent., when the Italian historian Alessandro Portelli and his associates began to study the role that memory itself, whether accurate or faulty, plays in the themes and structures of oral history. Their published work has since become standard material in the field, and many oral historians now include in their research the study of the subjective memory of the persons they interview.


See S. Caunce, Oral History (1994); V. R. Yow, Recording Oral History (1994), R. Perks and A. Thomson, The Oral History Reader (repr. 1998).

Oral history

Primary source material obtained by recording spoken words, generally by means of a planned tape recorded interview.

oral history

a method of historical research, especially SOCIAL HISTORY, in which the recollections of living persons are collected (e.g. Thompson, 1981). The assumption is that the data collected in this way particularly from ordinary people, will provide a valuable data archive for future as well as present historians. As for any historical sources, oral historical data require careful appraisal for reliability and representativeness. See also HISTORY, HISTORY WORKSHOP JOURNAL.
References in periodicals archive ?
The iNkosi Albert Luthuli Oral History is a culmination of an enormous collective effort of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and South African History Online (SAHO) which began in 2005.
The easy-to-use app provides access to the oral history, along with tools to record their own stories.
Allan said: "The Small Is festival is a fitting place to launch a history book about CAT and we're excited to be hosting a dynamic young festival bringing together artists, thinkers and doers working towards creating a better environmental future, while reflecting on the past listening to the voices from a disused quarry collected through CAT's oral history project.
Abraham includes the Palestinians as players in a complex historical conflict where they often have no voice, while Field discusses the application of oral history to address the impact of apartheid on displaced Capetown communities.
Oral history scholarship is in a transitional period, moving away from collection and testimony and an era defending oral history's relevance and reliability, towards a collaborative and community focus which is attempting to address one of the dark secrets of oral history; who is listening?
The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) will host the first GCC Heritage and Oral History Forum to highlight the importance of oral history in preserving the UAE's cultural heritage from September 14 to 16.
Caption: MD of MultiChoice Roger Gertze (left) with oral history project leader, Dr Audrin Mathe.
The tellers of tales were all academics and community groups with oral history projects based in and around Huddersfield.
Punk Rock: An Oral History provides interviews which many musicians who were at the forefront of the punk rock movement, from Chrissie Hynde and Siouxsie Sioux to Hernry Rollins, and offers a fine oral history of the UK punk rock movement of the 70s which will prove key to any modern music history collection.
ACADEMICS will gather at Frederick University in Nicosia tomorrow night to hear the findings of a pioneering study into the oral history of Cyprus since the 1960s.
Story Bridges: A Guide to Conducting Intergenerational Oral History Projects.