oral history

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Related to oral history: oral tradition

oral history

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 Herodotus (in his history of the Persian Wars) and Thucydides (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 Nevins 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 Terkel, Alex Haley, and Oscar Lewis 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).

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Oral history

Primary source material obtained by recording spoken words, generally by means of a planned tape recorded interview.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Willa Baum, the director of the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley, has this advice on starting an oral history: "You start with who's alive and has a good memory, and then expand out." Expanding out entails analyzing the organization's structure and attempting to characterize that through narratives with long-standing workers representing the various divisions.
In 1978 one of the movement's leading practitioners, Paul Thompson, published a detailed guide book to the techniques of oral history. With Voice of the Past (OUP, 1978) Thompson set out to overcome reservations held by traditional historians, who were dubious about the factual credibility of personal testimony.
In brief, Frisch maintains that oral history is, in the words of his title, a shared authority, not simply in the relationship between interviewer and narrator but at every step, from the moment the interview begins until it finds its way into its final form--a book, an exhibit, a transcript, or an archive.
Story Bridges : A Guide to Conducting Intergenerational Oral History Projects is a topically organized manual designed to assist especially those new to the field of oral history in planning and carrying out their projects.
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Several of the world's leading figures in oral history are attending - many from overseas.
Next Wednesday, oral history expert Jo Bath, from Beamish Museum, will be at Blanchland Sports and Social Club from 6.45pm to 9pm to give free advice on collecting and recording the memories and experiences of the people who make the area special.
Drawing from thirty years of experience as a practitioner and teacher of oral history, Judy Yung provided the nuts and bolts of conducting an oral history interview with a Chinese American.
There was no doubt that this woman had "virtually created oral history as an academic discipline in the United States and was a towering figure in the field," as acknowledged by Charles Faulhaber, Bancroft Library Director at the University of California, Berkeley.
A ground-breaking (https://libraries.aub.edu.lb/poha-viewer/map/?blm_aid=6961228) Palestinian Oral History Map has been launched online, allowing users "to explore the testimonies based on the historic landmarks that they describe--from schools, hospitals, and factories to rivers, valleys and mountains".
The Yale University Oral History of American Music (OHAM) announces a new research guide entitled "An African American Studies Critical Guide to Oral History of American Music" which can be found at the following: https://guides.library.yale.edu/oham/afam.