Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.
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.
..... Click the link for more information. (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.
..... Click the link for more information. (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
..... Click the link for more information. 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).
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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).