Oral history refers to memory which can be collected and preserved and involved collection of the memories that are deemed of historical significance through transcribed interviews.
Oral history has been the method for collecting information through stories passed through the word of mouth from one generation to the other. The scribes of the Zhou dynasty were able to collect the sayings of the people for three thousand years which was used in courts by the historians for centuries long after it has been collected.
Another historical account where oral history features is the collection of the Peloponnesian wars memories by Thucydides.
In the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans involves important application of the oral history by the Spanish chroniclers who used oral history to reconstruct between Aztecs and Incas. This was instrumental for the colonization and the conversion of the local people that the Europeans encountered.
In the modern history of the United States an example of an oral history account can be seen in the efforts of Joe Gould's archives and Allan Nevins political interviews targeting government, society and the business players.
Oral history has been in use in the modern times through the accounts of soldiers during war who make significant military history through oral events. Archival has the advantage of being less affected by later events but in some cases when the interviewee collects incomplete history it becomes problematic to rely on such oral history.
It is important for an oral historian interviewer to note that people remember what is important to them or that which they have had a personal connection with. As such, this increases the potential of bias due to personal preferences of the memory on what is important to remember.
Public memory is an important source of collective conceptions of the people which is created through symbols and stories which is key towards helping the community to define its past.
However, public memory continues to be a contested source of oral history due to the different social objectives of the people within the community.
Oral history is different from folklore in that folklore is involved in the collection of traditional stories, expressions and songs whereas the oral historian will be interested in the views of individuals on historical incidences. Besides, historians are more concerned of the actual evidence on what happened. Due to the common elements of the folklore and the oral history they collaborate and share a cross disciplinary element on the community historical issues on racial, ethnic, and economic matters.
Oral historians have increased the application and use of oral history in collecting family historical contexts and within organizations to preserve important knowledge.
First person observation in the oral history is more sought out due to the presentation of actual and non-biased account of the event.
Oral history projects are founded on the ability to create clear objectives which is key in establishing the best interviewees and also setting the context of inquiry.
It is important for the oral historians to observe and respect the rights of the interviewees.
Oral history interviews should follow certain principles and rules with the aim of promoting the overall credibility of the collected memories.
Technology innovations have improved the collection and storage of oral history which has increased the quality of collected oral history and the accessibility at a later date.
Ritchie, D. A. (2014). Doing oral history. Oxford University Press.
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