Oral History: Effective Or Defective?

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Oral History: Effective or Defective?
Oral history is a method used to attain historical knowledge through interviews and recordings of people’s memories of past events. Paul Thompson, the founder of the journal of Oral History, proclaimed, “Oral history is not necessarily an instrument for change; it depends upon the spirt in which it is used.” Most historians have mixed views on oral history. There are historians who question whether oral history is effective in the field of history, while other historians believe it is the best thing to happen to the historical field. Firstly, oral histories give voices to people and their stories, which are normally not heard of. Secondly, the interviewee may have a difficult time trusting the interviewer.
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In this case, democracy is applied in the sense that everyone’s stories equally have the right to be heard and taken into account. For example, the story of Emma Tenayuca, she was a Mexican-American activist for labor rights. Emma was born in 1916, which meant she was of age to remember the Great Depression and the effects it had on her, her family, and other people in her community. Tenayuca mentions her grandfather lost all his money in the bank during the stock market crash and she felt horrible about it. One can hear in the tone of her voice that she was upset and angry about the stock market crash and nobody helped people get food or get people’s money back. The reason she became so involved with labor activism was the great need for food and jobs. One can hear in her voice the passion to aid the hungry people and to establish a minimum wage. Reading an account of Emma’s life during the Great Depression and her labor activities do not result in the same emotion one would receive from listening to Emma’s oral interview. Emma’s stories are not in any history books I read in high school, which means a lot of people may not have heard of her and her story. Oral histories allow stories like Emma’s to be heard and offer a different view of historical events, which normally are not taken into account in textbooks. Oral histories offer great opportunities to voice hidden histories, but …show more content…
Ella paused quite a lot in her interview, but one could conclude she took a lot of time to think through her answers, but since we are not in her head we do not know exactly what those pauses mean. Silences are just as tricky because they may indicate the interviewee is not ready to speak of an intense event in their lives or do not have words to describe the event. For example, Pak Hardjo was quiet when asked how he felt after his employer left, but used his hands and tears to express his feeling. In this case more than likely his silence was interpreted correctly, but the interviewer could have interpreted his tears as tears of great sadness or as tears of joy it could go either way. Moreover, it is what the interviewer see’s and thinks the interviewee means because they are not in the interviewee’s head. Oral histories have a lot of room for misinterpretation, but they have a lot of room to expand history and give everyone in history

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