What Is Oral History and What Can It Teach?
Oral history can be a powerful tool to help students understand the impact events have on individuals’ lives, to expose students to the stories of people who are often marginalized in conventional history curriculum, and to consider how the legacy of the past continues to shape the present. Oral history gives individuals and communities the opportunity to tell their own stories and can introduce students to the power of seeing the past through multiple perspectives.
Oral history can be defined as “knowledge about the past that is relayed by word of mouth from one generation to the next” or “the practice of recording, archiving, and analyzing eyewitness testimony and life histories.”
However it is defined, oral history always focuses on the stories of individuals and communities. People construct their identities through narratives, and when individuals or groups of people share their personal stories, they can be a bridge, allowing one person to glimpse other’s experiences or views.
This strategy is designed to help students engage with oral histories in order to deepen their understanding of how past events impacted individuals and communities, and to gain new perspectives on the present. You can use this strategy to complement a historical unit or to explore the history and narratives of people who belong to different identity groups during heritage or commemorative months.