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  • Oral history is a qualitative method of collecting and preserving unrecorded information about the past that fill gaps in the written record and results in the creation of primary resources. Tape-recorded interviews can replace many of the missing elements that are vital to historical studies.

    Oral history methodology differs from many other types of interviews, including journalism, ethnographic, sociological, and folklore. Oral history interviews are formal and tend to focus on historical and cultural phenomena and events, rather than current affairs.

    For example, interviews conducted with victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or Hurricanes Katrina and Rita would be considered oral history only when taken many years after the fact and in context of the individuals' work, social, and family lives and experiences.

    Oral history methodology differs from other forms of interviewing because:

    • Consent and release (permission) forms are required
    • Interview focuses on life narratives of interviewee in order to establish context; this may take several sessions
    • Oral histories are more often found in repositories for preservation and public access
    • Attempted neutrality for long-term validity of primary source
          -open-ended questions
          -interviewing various people for multiple perspectives
    • Ethics of research partnership stressed; reciprocal relationship with community

    Because we cannot predict the types of information a researcher will need in the future, all interviews conducted by the Center staff are biographical and cover a person's entire life history in order to provide vital, encompassing context. Ideally, oral histories are deposited in repositories like LSU Libraries Special Collections for purposes of preservation and public access. Oral history methods are being increasingly embraced as a teaching tool in secondary classrooms.

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    Oral history provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of significant cultural and historical events and figures. Moreover, oral history lends itself well to documenting those who have been absent from or under-represented in the written record - African Americans and other minorities, immigrants, members of the working class, women, and other groups outside of the mainstream of American life. The aggregate of their stories and voices provide us with a deeper, more inclusive understanding of our past. It is a method well suited to the study of the state of Louisiana, which is renowned for its diversity.

    In addition to the important data and facts that are collected in this way, tone of voice, accent, and manner of speaking add qualities not conveyed by written words alone. Oral histories enable the researcher to make a very human connection with the subject, literally giving voice to the people who lived through, shaped, and were shaped by a variety of cultural, historical, and political experiences.

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The T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History | LSU Libraries Special Collections
Hill Memorial Library | LSU Campus, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-3300
Telephone: (225) 578-6577
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Last Updated: Friday, 13-Dec-2013 11:10:03 CST