What is Oral History?
The term oral history refers both to the process of recording and preserving people's personal accounts, and to the end product. The objectiv eof an oral history is to record personal testimonies and make them available to the public in various formats. Oral histories differ from other interviews because they are personal, in-depth accounts of people's lives and experiences. Their aim is specifically to preserve reflections of the past, often in relation to a specific event, time period, or location. Oral history narrators are required to sign a release form that defines ownership of the recordings, restrictions, and other parameters.
Since 1966, the Oral History Association has served as the principal membership organization for people committed to the value of oral history. OHA engages with policy makers, educators, and others to help foster best practices and encourage support for oral history and oral historians. With an international membership, OHA serves a broad and diverse audience including teachers, students, community historians, archivists, librarians, and filmmakers.
The Oral History Association offers principles and best practices for planning oral history projects, preparing for interviews, conducting interviews, and preserving and using oral histories.
This page offers a selection of guides that include tips for interviewing, selecting equipment, and digitization. For the purposes of your project, it might be helpful to look at “Interviewing Guidelines,” developed by UCLA’s Oral History Program, “Oral History Techniques: How to Organize and Conduct Oral History Interviews,” developed by Indiana University’s Oral History Research Center, and “Step by Step Guide to Oral History,” developed by historian and educator Judith Moyer.
Oral History Examples
Since 1973, the Southern Oral History Program has worked to preserve the voices of the southern past. We have collected more than 5,000 interviews with people from all walks of life—from mill workers to civil rights leaders to future presidents of the United States. Made available through UNC’s renowned Southern Historical Collection online, these interviews capture the vivid personalities, poignant personal stories, and behind-the-scenes decision-making that bring history to life.
The NCJW Oral History Project provides a compelling insight into the growth of an important American Jewish community and the contributions made by the people interviewed. Over a span of 32 years, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Pittsburgh Section, conducted more than 500 oral history interviews focused on the Jewish community – the history, the traditions, the contributions – of its members.
The Voices of Feminism Oral History Project documents the persistence and diversity of organizing for women in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century. Narrators include labor, peace, and anti-racism activists; artists and writers; lesbian rights advocates; grassroots anti-violence and anti-poverty organizers; and women of color reproductive justice leaders. Interviews average 5-6 hours and cover childhood, personal life, and political work.
StoryCorps' mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate worls.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone's story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.