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What Does ‘Oral History’ Entail, And What Use Can It Be To The Agendas Of Anthropologists, Or Historians Or Archaeologists?

2143 words - 9 pages

What does ‘oral history’ entail, and what use can it be to the agendas of anthropologists, or historians or archaeologists?
Rowse states that ‘human society, its story and how it has come to be what it is, is due to the factors that operate in them’ (Rowse, 1963). This is especially true when looking at history from an oral historian’s perspective. Oral history has always been a topic open to much debate – whether or not it is a method worthy of one’s time; often branded as ‘radical history’. History very much depends on how one presents it to those looking to seek out the truth. There are various methods to investigate the past but ‘oral history’ is one method which this exploration will focus on. When one looks at ‘oral history’, it is essential to firstly define the term and investigate its origins before one begins to decipher its use to anthropologists, historians or archaeologists. This essay will attempt to explore where oral history came from, what precisely it entails, such as what it specifically means to an oral historian, reasons why they would choose this method (strengths), problems an oral historian may face (weaknesses) and how a historian would go about collecting data (application).
A question which is much needed to be answered before one begins such a conquest as to find out what use oral history is is: ‘What is oral history?’ and ‘Where did it come from?’ There are several definitions within this but at first glance ‘Oral history refers both to a method of recording and preserving oral testimony (with) the intention of creating a permanent record to contribute to an understanding of the past’ (http://www.oralhistory.org/do-oral-history/general-principles-for-oral-history-and-best-practices-for-oral-history). For many years oral history was the only form of upholding a historical record. As a result of this a further exploration into oral traditions is also required in order to gain a fuller picture. Oral tradition differs to that of oral history as oral tradition is ‘no longer contemporary’. It is ‘passed from mouth to mouth for a period beyond the lifetime of the informants’ (Vansina, 1982). Herodotus is a renowned scholar from the 5th century but the question begged to be asked is ‘how did he gather his information?’ ‘It is widely believed he turned local memory into universal narrative.’ From this perspective one can see Herodotus employed the method of ‘oral history’ and a look at the beginnings of oral traditions in order to have ‘preserved Greek local tradition from oblivion’ (Luraghi, 2007). Is this an insight into oral history’s origin? Luraghi argues that ‘assuming Herodotus was the link in the transmission chain, the one where the tradition found at last a stable shape in written form, we cannot simply think of traditions which were... ready to be recorded’. He continues to argue that perhaps he did not collect all his information at once but perhaps ‘inquired’ then ‘thought a bit’ before he put pen to paper. ...

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