As more and more witnesses of these events pass away, their personal stories are lost with them. Many people experienced extraordinary things that they do not feel the need to share with anyone until someone asks.
Many people discredit oral histories because they have long been associated with many problems.
Problems associated with oral history:
- Interviews conducted years after an event are subject to nostalgia, forgetfulness, embellishment, false memory, etc.
- The interviewer's questions can make certain aspects seem more important to the interviewee than they really were. For instance, interviewers generally ask specific questions that they are interested in hearing about rather than letting the interviewee demonstrate what they believed was most important.
-Interviewees may be reluctant to share things that they may be embarrassed of, especially if the interviewer is a family member.
Even though there are many pitfalls in using and conducting oral histories, oral histories are still important. Oral histories can bring up forgotten parts of history and give a human face and experience to historical events. Oral histories are good for recording emotions and feelings about events. Writers of history are quick to generalize the feelings of groups of people in the past but oral histories are one way to show the diversity of feelings and emotions that existed. In addition, they also show the diversity of experience. A farm girl might have different feelings about an event than a soldier she was standing next to.
If you would like to take part in the project, the American Folklife Center has put together resources for those interested and instructions on how to record and submit materials.
-Here is a link to the project.
-Here is a link to their interview field kit.
-Search to see some of the histories they have collected already.
-Tips for Interviewers from the Bancroft Library's Regional Oral History Office to help interviewers minimize bias in their interviews.