Understanding Oral Histories

Oral History is often misunderstood and is seen as being an inaccurate representation of history. Some may unintentionally equate it with folklore, hearsay, or even gossip. These are all untrue and are misconceptions of this valuable resource. In fact, Oral History allows us to analyze and verify existing information and also to help place facts in data into the correct historical context. It is a precious source to historians in building a strong understanding for what took place years ago.

Oral Histories provide different information than what can be learned through textbooks. It focuses on human memories and the spoken stories created by emotions that went along with them. You are able to learn about the thoughts of the people who were there and lived it, and to see how they perceived what was taking place. You learn about family histories, personal experiences, and public opinion. The people you get to talk to often share their feelings, hopes, achievements, disappointments, and even their advice for the future. This kind of information can help to fill in the blanks that are often found when history is written purely from articles and artifacts. Oral histories provide the participant with an opportunity to ask specific questions they have about a time or place in history. Finally, one of the most valuable benefits is the chance to interact with people and to discuss openly what may or may not have taken place.