Oral histories are audio (or sometimes video) interviews conducted with people in order to capture their unique perspectives on historic events, people, places, and things. They may be performed by professional oral historians with specialized training, by peers and colleagues, and/or within families. Oral histories are usually conducted in person and recorded, then a transcript (text of the spoken interview) is produced. Interviewees (sometimes called narrators) are given a chance to review the interview and transcript, at which time they can make edits and/or clarifications, request redactions and/or restrictions, and give final approval for the oral history to be added to a library or archives collection.
Oral histories are useful primary source information resources because they provide first-hand accounts of the past. Because oral histories are personal narratives and are recalled from memory, sometimes they may contain information that conflicts with other sources. In some cases they may be unreliable and may require corroboration (for example, misremembered dates), but they provide an important individual perspective on events that may only be documented at a higher and/or more removed level in published records.
Past TCC Archivists put together the below toolkit for introducing oral histories to your class, including suggested readings, activities, and assessment tips.
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