Jul 14, Oral History: Voices From the Past Preserved for Future Generations

Oral history is a unique way to uncover the great moments, incredible stories and uncommon experiences of the past!

Oral History in a Sentence…

Defining oral history in a sentence

Well… It’s hard to boil down what oral history is in just one sentence as it divides into two main categories…

The first category is…

The actual collection of historical data, eyewitness accounts and personal commentaries through the process of interviewing someone who has lived through and has a recollection of that particular time period.

The second category is… 

The study of individual or groups of oral histories to gain a better and more complete understanding of a particular era in history, as seen through the eyes of someone (or a group) who lived and participated in that particular period of time.

Of course, when we really look at it, oral histories have been the means to chronicle and preserve events starting from the very earliest ages in antiquity. Oral history is the oldest technique of relaying what happened in the past to future generations as it predates written language. 

And… even now…  Though it was the first technique used to relay information about the past, it is still one of the most vital, interesting and most powerful ways to chronicle a bygone era!

The Importance of Oral History….

The events of today are the history of tomorrow! We all live in extraordinary times, whether we know it or not!

As we live through these times we encounter great moments and experiences. We see it with our own eyes. What better way to learn about the past then by hearing it from somebody who lived through that era. Someone who was actually there at the time and can give an eyewitness account. 

Life is lived by everybody and to uncover the truth of history it is best to look at it from many viewpoints. The viewpoints that we get from the individual accounts from the people who actually lived through the events, shared the ideas of the time and lived in the communities where these events of the past took place.

Interviewing and preserving the memories and commentaries of the people who have personal knowledge, and in some cases participated in, past events that will be recorded in the historical record of this planet is invaluable.

The Benefits of Oral History…

As the name oral history implies, this information comes directly from people who have lived through, and in many cases have personal and eyewitness accounts of great historical events. 

The added bonus is that not only are these events described but, the thoughts, feelings and commentaries on these events by the person who lived through them at that time, are vital as a means of understanding that time period in greater depth.

Major events in history are usually recorded as an incident. We know what happened but seldom do we get the information on how the people who live through it at the time viewed it, thought about it, how it impacted their lives, and their commentaries on it. This is true also of what we might think of as the more minor events in history, things like the history of our community or our family

Oral History Can Recover Family Information That Was Thought to Be Lost!Oral History Can Recover Family Information That Was Thought to Be Lost!

These histories are not so minor or unimportant! They bind generations together, they help explain things in the present by making clear how they came about. Family oral histories in particular are valuable as a connection through time from one generation to another. 

And one of the things that makes this type of history gathering so unique is that your hearing this straight from the family member who actually lived it!

What child hasn’t asked questions such as…

  •  ”What was grandpa (or grandma) like in their younger days?”
  • “Who was uncle Joe?”
  • “What country are our ancestors from?”
  • “What city did we live in before we moved here and why did we move?”. 

These… and a thousand other questions… can be simply answered in a well done half an hour interview!

Oral histories can bind generations together!Oral histories can bind generations together!

Family members may be able to find clues to their ancestors in various ways but… What is the real  information, interesting and personal stories and facts that bring these past generations to life and make them understandable in the present. 

Hearing an eyewitness account of family history, the memory of a grandparent who, when they were young, heard the personal accounts of family history from their grandparents before them can be lost for future generations if not preserved in some way. 

But… They have to be done before it’s too late!

Oral History Projects…

Oral Histories Have Become Easier to Do!Oral Histories Have Become Easier to Do!

Oral history projects, the organized collection of oral histories, started to gain steam in the 1940s and 1950s with the advent of smaller, more economical but high-quality, audio recording devices.

In present time, with the use of modern video production techniques and digital audio and visual equipment it’s never been easier to capture a high quality, informative and entertaining oral history. An oral history that can be preserved and archived for many future generations to come.

Oral history projects can be done in many ways and with varying levels of expertise. There are of course vast (and expensive) oral history projects done by colleges, universities and institutions that preserve whole segments of the past. The history of countries, regions, cities, various ethnic cultures, just to name a few, are all prime targets for the collection of oral histories by these large organizations. These types of oral histories are vital to the understanding of how the social and physical fabric of this planet has been put together and who it was that shaped it.

But… vast and expensive oral history projects are not the only ones that can be done. Very extensive, interesting and entertaining oral history projects can be done by individuals.

Doing a Family History Can Be Fun and Rewarding!Doing a Family History Can Be Fun and Rewarding!

 Family members who want to preserve their family’s history can do wonderful oral histories with the use of inexpensive audio and video equipment.  They can find out what molded their family traditions, what is their heritage, who their relatives are and what their stories were… and much more! They almost invariably find a far more interesting family history than they ever imagined and lots of surprises along the way! 

When interviewing and listening to  a family member recalling their life …many times …they uncover stories that have never been heard before, incredible events they couldn’t have imagined occurred within their family, and possibly, can uncover eyewitness accounts of some of the great moments in history. 

Family History Preserved for Posterity!Family History Preserved for Posterity!

And… it’s all preserved for posterity so that future generations of that family can understand and connect with the thoughts, ideas and wonderful experiences of their relatives that have gone before them!

If you’re thinking about doing a family history interview with a relative… My advice would be to do it as soon as possible… so that you don’t waste an opportunity to gather wonderful information from the best source… Your family members who have firsthand knowledge about the past!

Great moments and experiences,incredible stories, eyewitness accounts and descriptions of events that shaped history! A well done oral history can preserve for posterity all these things and more!

Have fun…!  Dan (Editor)

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Video Editing Sage.com – Oral history video production tips!

Family oral history projects are easy and fun to do but, they do need some planning! If you’re thinking about doing one here are some tips!

Video Editing Sage.com – Oral History References

For further information about Oral Histories see…

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