Why the Method of Oral History Is Important for Different Studies and Specialties
An oral history is a narration of the facts about a person’s life that turned up in an unusual situation. Usually, journalists or interviewers record oral history by media gadgets in modern times. It is a common way to use this method among YouTube bloggers, film directors, archive workers, and historical researchers. In early times, people were unable to collect testimonials or take interviews like now. As such, modern society is missing many details about the domestic life of ordinary people of ancient times. For example, the glories of Greece are described with no mention that for every free male citizen in Greece, there were at least seven slaves. What was life like for Greek slaves? Today, we do not have testimony from them (Brown).
The writers of history had to depend on minimal sources. Only kings, priests, and their close associates had the time, wealth, and skills to record their activities and point of view. Education and materials like paper were not easily available. Writing diaries on sheepskin was difficult and expensive, too; very few could do it (Brown).
Cynthia Stokes says that as time passed, more people had access to paper and quills and to the education necessary to learn to write. The key invention, of course, was the printing press, which after the mid-fifteenth century, made possible the creation of multiple copies of memoirs, accounts, and ideas. As more accounts became available, history was expanded to include stories about more people: politicians, philosophers, poets, explorers, and scientists (Brown).
The nineteenth century had a furious production of new history. Libraries were established to collect archives, and universities grew around them to support historians and scholars in their activity. Trained historians, usually from upper-class backgrounds, put together narratives based on the printed and archival sources available to them. The history produced in the nineteenth century and the twentieth, up to World War II, is now seen as having been centered on political history. It focused on national politics, political and constitutional ideas, and the men who worked in these areas. But the vast majority of people did not appear in these history books (Brown).
Advances in medicine were chronicled with no mention that when hospitals first began, thousands of women died of childbed fever, spread by the contaminated hands of male physicians. Only men’s experiences were considered worthy of being part of the record (Brown). To prevent future generations from repeating old failures, people need to know more information about the experiences of each other. That’s why youth today talk more about the importance of methods of recording oral history.
Every individual event can be seen from different points of view, and every aspect of view is correct in its limited way. When the reporter considers what goes on in a family of four, they will find that all four members describe differently what is happening or has happened, and all are accurate. Only someone who can analyze and assimilate all the separate accounts can arrive at an understanding that encompasses the whole. Rarely, this may be one or more members of the family; usually, it is an outsider. In writing history, a person can never write a completely accurate account because the complexity we face is too immense. People make certain assumptions that collectors of testimonials are not aware of. Then people have to revise their story when interviewers come up against new evidence that does not fit what they expected (Brown).
The original mission of collecting the testimonies is to show the point of view of a concrete person. It could be a famous writer or survivors of notorious occasions. For example, the griots of Africa are a prime example of carrying oral history. Most African societies are still to this day steeped in traditions like old tribes, and much of their folklore is centered around songs and dancing, which has kept their oral history alive. Griots are, more or less, storytellers or lore keepers in African societies. They frequently compare their work to an ancient baobab tree or a library: a living, speaking testimony to a society’s history (James).
Properly prepared questions for debriefing prevent the interviewer from problems in composing an article in the future (Brown). An interviewer may ask one question at a time. A journalist should state their questions as directly as possible. Open-ended questions are preferable. Questions that begin with “why,” “how,” “where,” and “what kind of” help the respondent to become more open. Dichotomous questions should be avoided (Oral History Project). A good place to begin, for instance, is with the interviewee’s childhood memories by starting non-controversial questions (Brown).
The periods of silence shouldn’t embarrass the interviewer. Also, the person asking questions should not interrupt the interviewee. If the responder strays away from the topic in which the journalist is interested, it does not make the interview a failure. Sometimes the best answers of an interview come about this way. The best chance to steer the interviewee back to the topic is to ask the next question. Then the digression will not have gone too far afield. Being respectful of the interviewee is the main point of a successful interview. This is will provide the oral history with a qualitative component. Using body language to show that the interviewer is interested in what the responder has to say is equal for the total mood of the interviewing process (Brown). There is a need to remember that the interviewee is giving to the reporter the gift of their memories and experiences. It is essential to express the gratitude to the interviewee for sharing their story after the interview. Sending a written thank-you note is considered a good practice. The interview is not about showing off the reporter’s knowledge, charm, or other attributes. Good interviewers never take the spotlight. Instead, they let their interviewees shine (Brown).
Oral history is significant. This is the way stories were passed down before writing was invented. Oral history also played a major role during periods of distress (Quora). In Ancient Greece, oral history was at times the only way people could remember their past. During the dark ages, writing was forgotten because everyone was so focused on staying alive during hard times. By the time Hesiod and Homer were writing (8th century), the stories had been changing into the more familiar myths concerning the titans, Zeus’ war against them, and the birth of the Olympian Gods with Zeus as their chief (Mark). Oral history allowed the Greeks to remember when they were unable to write. This method also played a major role in Africa. People would use oral traditions to tell stories and legends of the people before them.
Using the method of oral history helps inventors from different fields to create unique stories of the lives of their respondents. Sharing experience between individuals has been a leading method for how humanity can progress.
Brown, Cynthia Stokes. Like It Was: A Complete Guide to Writing Oral History. 1988, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED304700.pdf.
John James. “The Griots of West Africa – Much More Than Story-Tellers.” Word of Mouth. 2012, http://www.goethe.de/ins/za/prj/wom/osm/en9606618.htm
Joshua J. Mark. “Ancient Greece.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited, 13 November 2013, https://www.ancient.eu/greece/.
Oral History Project. History of American Women Since 1874. Binghamton University
State University of New York, http://harvey.binghamton.edu/~hist266/oral/tips.htm .
Quora. Why Is Oral History Important. 2017, Quora, https://www.quora.com/Why-is-oral-history-important.
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Many facts and data from archives could be lost if there was no method of transcription of oral histories. Specialists that are working in this field have to prepare questions for interviews very attentively for their respondents. The subjects of oral histories could be persons who stayed alive after a transport catastrophe, witnesses of an extraordinary phenomenon, the founder of a new path in culture, or an ordinary person who reached their achievements in the work of their dreams.
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