The phrase “digital revolution” is frequently used in both popular and academic discourse to describe the multiple contexts of our increasingly electronically enriched and computer-dependent society. The essence of this article happens to be achieving the promise of oral history in a digital age. In oral history and other academic areas utilizing the interview as a central methodological element, the “digital revolution” specifically refers to the mainstream integration of digital technologies into all facets of the oral history process—in the field, in the archive, and in the distribution of the interview content. This article explores how digital technologies have significantly impacted and have become integral to the recording of oral history, as well as to the dual archival imperatives of access and preservation. Digital video recording started playing a pivotal role in practices of oral history by the twentieth century. Oral history has always been bound to technology, and technologies will forever change.
The Atlantic Northeast emerged as a distinctive region between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Its largest tribal groupings were the Abenaki, Mi’kmaq, Penobscot, and other Wabanaki peoples; the Delaware and other Lenape peoples; and Mohegan, Mohican, Munsee, Narragansett, Pequot, and Wampanoag Indians. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these peoples struggled to survive in the face of depopulation from diseases, warfare, emigration, and other effects of European, particularly English, colonization. Thereafter, they and their communities persisted, despite further marginalization in non-Native law, society, and discourse in the United States and Canada. Since the end of the nineteenth century, Native peoples have begun to resist such marginalization through greater public visibility as celebrities and activists, by regaining some lands and rights, and by proclaiming their own perspectives on their history.
This article explains the collectivity of memory. Memory, in all its guises, has been at the heart of historical inquiry over the past three decades. Cultural and social historians, sociologists, social psychologists, and those working in cultural studies and literary criticism have generated a significant body of work exploring both individual autobiographical memory and collective, public memory. Interest in the subject of collective remembrance, initially focusing upon the social and cultural forms through which the violent and repressive history of the twentieth century were recalled and commemorated, has developed over time into a broader, interdisciplinary field focusing upon memory. The term “memory” has now expanded to encompass all these forms of historical consciousness, a development that has received a less-than-enthusiastic response from those historians who define conventional history by its goals of objectivity and truth, as opposed to the subjectivity and partiality of memory. Discussion on personal and collective memory and social identities conclude this article.
The emergence of oral history was connected with a technical development—namely the possibility of recording human voices. The recording techniques developed rapidly. This article discusses the challenges faced while recording audiovisual history. In the 1980s expensive filmmaking began to be replaced by more affordable video formats, which took the technical development of oral history to a new audiovisual level. The paradigm shift generated by oral history in which historians began to generate their own primary sources announced another transformation of the way historians worked: taking leave of the written form and communicating scholarly results in audiovisual form. This article seeks to describe what the integration of the visual aspect means for oral historians in generating documents of remembrance. It elaborates on a few concrete examples of how integrating the camera's eye has shaped audiovisual history. A discussion on negotiation of remembrance followed by new methods and issues of videohistory concludes this article.
This article focuses on case studies in oral history with the backdrop of democracy and lessons learnt form illiterates. The “discovery” of illiteracy and its defining characteristics should be a main focus of oral history. The difficulties in reaching illiterates, the communication problems, and their frequent silences, especially in societies that have suffered civil wars and harsh political repression, challenge historians. The experience of interviewing them allows us to measure the degree to which the historian is anchored in the literate culture and complicit in the power of writing. This case study presents some results, a comparison between the samples, and the theoretical challenges about the role of democracy and illiteracy in situations of social and political upheaval. The research centers on proving that illiterates are not disruptive and that they show a moderate response. As a conclusion, future research is presented in the form of four conjectures which winds up this article.
Richard Cándida Smith
University-based oral history needs to undergo a transformation. The process of going out and interviewing people for first-hand knowledge of historical events is as old as the historical discipline itself. This article focuses on a case study on what university-based oral history can do when it comes to the study of oral history. Interviews continued to be one of the most important tools for historians studying recent topics, but oral history as practiced today had its beginnings in the early nineteenth century when researchers began compiling and preserving stenographic records of the interviews they carried out. Modern oral history has centered on making the words of the historical informants accessible, so that narrators can continue to speak of their experiences to subsequent generations. Oral sources have been an important part of scholarly life for the past two centuries because they have made visible forms of collective life that are difficult to document in other ways.
Brien R. Williams
Oral historians once tended to regard the sound recording of interviews as only the collecting stage of their enterprise. They considered the transcript as the authoritative document of record. This article focuses on the role of historians in capturing oral history through video. Later, however, aural recordings acquired more authority and began to be seen as a legitimate, if not co-equal, version of the interview. Now, oral historians are steadily adding video recording to their work. Foremost among the advantages of using video is the increased information obtained even in a simple “talking head” interview. This article enlists an extensive guideline for carrying out videohistory beginning with equipments and production techniques such as the equipment needed will include a consumer-grade video camera with at least one external microphone input, a camera tripod, and one or more quality microphones. A detailed description of video tour and ways of capturing video history concludes this article.
Mary Kay Quinlan
The focus of this article is the dynamics of oral history and the significance of interviewing while recording oral history. From the profound to the perfunctory, question-asking permeates modern society. Sometimes, of course, the questioner does not want information, like the alumni association solicitor. At other times, the respondent, wise to the conventions of culture, knows that the question—How are you today?—is not really a question at all but an alternate way of saying hello. Nonetheless, the purposeful exchanges of questions and answers—these commonplace mini-interviews—characterize our days. This article discusses researches that are interview based with references to broadcast interview, print interview as well as ethnographic interview. While these three interview-based research methods share certain similarities, and their practitioners can learn constructive techniques from each other, their differences are more notable. This article elaborates the factors affecting interview and ways of documenting an interview.
Michelle Winslow and Graham Smith
Ethical challenges in the oral history of medicine are the essence of this article. It is a mark of the contribution of oral history to the history of medicine that studies located within living memory are open to criticism if they fail to include oral history. However, oral history's contribution to the history of medicine is a complex one, and this is highlighted in an exploration of the history of professionals in medicine and medical professions, and in the emergence of the patient's story. Problems of “shared authority” are considered: working with professionals when interviewee “power” is a factor and, conversely, our relationships with “patients” who may be viewed as “vulnerable” oral history subjects. Interwoven throughout this discussion is the question of ethics, and this article raises some of the ethical challenges that arise within the history of medicine. Oral history in medicine gives insight into past actions that allows their consideration in their contemporary circumstances.
The aims of this article are twofold. First, it traces the broad contours of the historiography, examining the myriad ways in which scholars have come to incorporate the slave perspective in studies of slavery. Having established the general trajectory of this search through the 1970s, it examines the ways in which slaves' voices have led scholars to important insights in one particular area of study — the political, social, and economic implications of the slaves' internal economy.
This article refers to the Malvian Wars to analyze how political memories are embedded in oral history. It provides a broader look at political memories as historical constructions, and a reflection on the place of historians in disputes over the past. All memories are political, but not all memories affect politics. In some cases, this is because they have been silenced, and in others because they remain in the individual sphere, and consequently are forgotten and disappear when their bearers die. Talking to others about their political memories can leads to conscious efforts to intervene in disputes over the past as a way of impacting upon the present. This article also tries to analyze the memories associated with dictatorship with special reference to political upheavals in Argentina. Memories of the Malvian wars are vividly captured in this article, and this is followed by a discussion on the idea of patriotic wars. An explanation about the place and importance of historians against this backdrop concludes this article.
Donald A. Ritchie
Oral history is as old as the first recorded history and as new as the latest digital recorder. Long before the practice acquired a name and standard procedures, historians conducted interviews to gain insight into great events, beginning at least as early as Thucydides, who used oral history for his account of the Peloponnesian wars. In the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson commented that “all history was at first oral,” but the term “oral history” was first used in reference to troubadours and oral traditions. However, the study of oral history was taken up seriously only during the twentieth century. Oral history did not attach itself to interviewing until an article appeared in the New Yorker in 1942 about Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village bohemian who claimed to be compiling “An Oral History of Our Time”. This article further discusses the importance of oral history projects and oral historians at the same time.
John A. Neuenschwander
Oral history has become a research tool in virtually every country in the world. While the vast majority of oral history programs have not and likely never will be confronted with a lawsuit, the implementation of legally and ethically sound procedures are the best ways to insure that this does not happen. All oral historians should make themselves familiar with the legal issues that relate to the practice of oral history, such as legal release agreements, challenges to interview restrictions, defamation, the privacy torts, copyright, the Internet, and institutional review board. The focus of this article is American law, but the issues discussed is relevant to oral historians from other nations and encourage practitioners to consider how their own legal systems address them. The memories that an interviewer records begin as the intellectual property of the interviewee. People own the copyright to their words. The importance of various legal documents pertaining to oral history is presented in detail.
Memory is not a passive depository of facts, but an active process of creation of meanings. This article focuses on the importance of memory and remembering in oral history. The literature about memory ranges across several academic disciplines and is daunting in size and scope. This article also considers approaches to memory and remembering, which can enhance oral historians' understanding of the interview and its interpretation. It begins by charting the history of oral historians' approaches to memory and then distills current research about memory and remembering—from cultural studies, and narrative theory. It explores the idea of memory research by arguing that remembering is not like playing back a tape or looking at a picture; more like telling a story. The consistency and accuracy of memories is therefore an achievement, not a mechanical production. It also explains ideas of narrative theory, memory paradox and social relationships against the backdrop of oral history.
Robert B. Perks
For decades, oral historians and their tape recorders have been inseparable, but it has also been an uneasy marriage of convenience. The recorder is both our “tool of trade” and also that part of the interview with which historians are least comfortable. Oral historians' relationship with archivists has been an uneasy one. From the very beginnings of the modern oral history movement in the 1940s, archivists have played an important role. The arrival of “artifact-free” digital audio recorders and mass access via the Internet has transformed the relationship between the historian and the source. Accomplished twenty-first-century oral history practitioners are now expected to acquire advanced technological skills to capture, preserve, analyze, edit, and present their data to ever larger audiences. The development of oral history in many parts of the world was influenced by the involvement of sound archivists and librarians. Digital revolution in the present century continues to influence oral history.
This article focuses on the teaching of oral history in the twenty-first century. The article discusses the importance of educators when it comes to teaching oral history to students. According to this article educators can bring into the classrooms and programs of the twenty-first century a historical process once used by Thucydides to chronicle the Peloponnesian Wars, and use that process to challenge students with learning opportunities. The student-oral historian has many roles to play like preservation, and publication of the past and present for future generations, a revelation that emerges as they consider the variety of oral history projects being conducted at all levels. Classroom oral history projects generally fall into one of two categories: those that focus on individual biographical/life review interviews, and those that deal with a particular period or place following the oral history training method which allows students to understand the challenges associated with oral history as a methodology.
Kelly Schrum, Sheila Brennan, James Halabuk, Sharon Leon, and Tom Scheinfeldt
Oral history means many things. It is a record of oral tradition, compiled of stories handed down from one generation to the next, as well as the recording of personal history or experiences. It can involve a formal interview examining a particular topic, such as the history of the space telescope, or a moment in time, such as the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island commercial nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. A kind of oral history can also occur informally, when family members share stories around a kitchen table or when a high school student interviews his grandmother about immigrating to the United States. The task of categorizing oral history has become even more challenging in the digital age. It is possible to define online oral history, as resources are available via the Internet that are related to the collecting, cataloging, preserving, or sharing of oral history.
This article chronicles the journey of oral histories from margins to the mainstream. Until the late 1970s oral history was something that happened only outside universities. When pursued within universities, it was considered a fairly unsophisticated method for research projects. The skepticism—though now both more refined and more filtered—and the commonsense view can still be found within universities. However, the growth in university oral history courses, research projects, archives and other activities, their diversity and innovative nature, and the burgeoning literature on the teaching of oral history in tertiary institutions all suggest that oral history has moved from the margins to the mainstream, and that it is recognized as grounded in complex and sophisticated theories and methods. This article aims, however, to provide an overview of key achievements, issues, strategies, and challenges, and to provoke thinking about ongoing and future issues, strategies, and concerns.
Clifford M. Kuhn
An immense transformation in oral history and media has taken place over the past few decades. This article draws largely upon personal experiences in culminating media, message, and meaning along with the study of oral history. This article looks at experiences in interviewing people and how memories can be juxtaposed in combining oral history. To convey something of the orality and subjectivity of a radio series, this article also intersperses thirteen longer “profiles,” extended interview excerpts with people found especially informative and illuminating, and whose stories did not always fit neatly within the larger narrative. Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914–1948, published in 1990 is referred to for conveying message and meaning. The advent of the digital revolution by the early 1990s helped spur a resurgence of interest. The plethora of oral history–based media initiatives is astounding which is still mushrooming.
This article surveys the historiographical trends in medical history that have fostered the rise in the use of oral history. It discusses different approaches that serve to bring individual experiences and human agents into the historical frame, humanizing our understanding of the national and international institutions, professions, governments, and organizations that shape medical history. Oral history reveals the clinicians behind changing medical treatments and the personal experiences behind patient populations or epidemiological trends. This article argues, however, that oral history needs to do more; rather, it should aim to chart and explore the relationship between the structures of medicine and human experience. Furthermore, it discusses that oral testimony does not document the past, but is an individual's interpretation of it; historians therefore need to interrogate it as such, exploring why people remember in certain ways, what is forgotten or misremembered, and what such memories mean for the present.