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Primary Sources: Oral History

Definition

Oral History is history in the first person as recalled by those who lived it; a first-hand account of "what happened." Beyond being the tale of one person, it can reveal details of a period including how lives were lived day-to-day. The recording, transcript, or performance of oral history is a primary source.

Oral History

Hidden treasures and personal recollections

Historical research frequently meanders beyond typical material collections. You can often gather important information about an event or time period by talking to someone who lived through it.

Finding people to interview and experts to consult.

Do you know where an event you want to research occurred? Check with the local library, historical society, or newspaper to see if they have ideas on who you might speak with. Once you have a last name, check the local phone directories. Even if the 'expert' has died there may be relatives who can help.

Who has written about your topic locally? WorldCat or the online catalog of a local library may turn up local writings or media. These materials may give you an idea of a local expert you could talk to about your topic.

Conducting Oral Histories