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Oral History Collaborations and Project Resources

An overview and resource list for oral history projects held in collaboration with Atkins Library Special Collections.

What is Oral History?

Oral History is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. (Oral History Association 2021). Communities have always used oral storytelling as a way to pass down information and history. It wasn't until the creation of the written word that oral communication was seen as secondary. Oral histories are necessary in ensuring all voices in a historical narrative are heard. Hearing the lived experiences of others can be a catalyst for change.

  • Examples of oral history themes
    • Family history/genealogy
    • Personal life histories
    • Worldwide or national events
    • Social and Political issues
    • Neighborhood histories
    • Organizational histories

Oral histories can be whole life histories or focused topical histories. They can be audio or video recordings. Once created and preserved each oral history interview is a primary source document, similar to a diary or personal letters.

What is Oral History Used For?

Oral history is a qualitative form of research that helps us to investigate and understand:

  • Meanings
  • Perspectives and perceptions
  • Social and political contexts
  • Relationships and interactions 
  • Motivations and agency
  • Identities

Oral history is also an important tool for documenting the lives and viewpoints of those who are often underrepresented or misrepresented in public records and archives.

Oral history is NOT usually a good source for specific information such as dates or detailed facts, and should always be corroborated by other research methods.