This guide is for people who want to learn more about oral history. You will find information and resources in this guide on the following:
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Oral history is an audio or video recording of a first-person, spoken account of someone's life history, a particular event, or a particular topic to help future generations gain a better understanding of the past. Oral history interviews contribute to the historical record. As primary sources, they reflect the personal (subjective) opinions of the interviewee. Oral histories are not considered comprehensive, final, or objective, and may be used in conjunction with other primary and secondary sources to gain a better understanding of history.
As little as 40 years ago, many historians did not value oral histories or see them as valid primary sources. The reasoning varied but historians often cited the subjectivity of the interviews and the fact that the interviewees were rarely experts or trained observers. By the early 1970s, recognition for cultural studies, with a particular focus on the voices and experiences of everyday people, began to take hold across the humanities and social sciences. As the focus of historians has broadened, increasing historical emphasis has been placed on the “common” people and other groups, large and small, rendered voiceless by traditional historical methodology.
One of the most influential oral historians in U.S. history was Studs Terkel, who interviewed thousands of people.
Terkel's focus on everyday people gave voice to individuals such as Native Americans,
Oral History Standards and Ethics
Oral history principles and best practices as defined by the Oral History Association describe what oral history is, what standards oral historians should follow when recording the stories of others, and what ethical issues are associated with the practice of oral history.
This website provides a wealth of information on how to conduct oral history interviews in today's digital age. The site features essays from professional oral historians on a variety of topics including collection, curation, and dissemination as well as a list of best practices for digital oral histories.
Oral History Organizations
Founded in 1966, the Oral History Association is the principle membership organization for people interested in and practicing oral history.
Founded in 1996, the International Oral History Association serves as a forum for oral historians around the world.
Affiliated with the Oral History Association, H-Oralhist is a digital network for oral historians and those interested in oral history to post queries, discussions and responses related to oral history topics.
Oral History Journals
The official journal of the Oral History Association. This peer-reviewed journal features articles about the practice of oral history.
The official, online journal of the International Oral History Association. This journal is peer-reviewed and features articles on a wide variety of oral history topics and issues.
The University of Montana acknowledges that we are in the aboriginal territories of the Salish and Kalispel people. We honor the path they have always shown us in caring for this place for the generations to come.