Oral History in the Digital Age

Oral History allows historians to bring people’s memories back to life. History is not only a group of events that must be documented or preserved. It is imperative to know more about the impact of those events on people. In this essay, I want to argue how digital history allowed people to share their sadness and happiness regarding special events. Oral history allowed historians to better understand history by analyzing people’s stories. These stories enable historians to understand these historical events from different perspectives.  

Oral History Definition

Many scholars and organizations have defined oral history. For instance, The Oral History Association described oral history as “A field of study and a method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Oral history is the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies.”[1]  This is one of the most straightforward definitions of the oral history field as it introduces the reader to the role of Oral History in preserving people’s memory of events like war, revolution, etc.

On the other hand, Linda Shopes defined oral history as “ a maddeningly imprecise term: it is used to refer to formal, rehearsed accounts of the past presented by culturally sanctioned tradition-bearers; to informal conversations about “the old days” among family members, neighbors, or coworkers; to printed compilations of stories told about past times and present experiences; and to recorded interviews with individuals deemed to have an important story to tell.”[2]

Her definition of oral history is more complicated than the Oral History Association’s definition. However, her definition is accurate. I agree that oral history can be formal or informal stories introducing people to recent events. Of course, we don’t need to document every person’s story, but some story that can lead us to understand how people. Suffer in the past, for example. The Virginia Holocaust Museum began recording oral histories in 1997 to preserve the firsthand accounts of people who had witnessed genocide. This story allowed us to feel those people’s pain and value the part of history: https://www.vaholocaust.org/oral-histories/

Public History and Oral History

Now, oral history plays a substantial role in most of the public history research. Public historians use oral history to reveal information about the past that does not exist in books or newspapers. Oral history significantly allowed public historians to deeply understand the study of memories, one of the most critical subjects in public history. Each oral history interview shows people’s memories regarding events. Moreover, public historians are most likely interested in digital history, and electronic technologies allow them to share their interviews online to make them available to the public. I have included oral history in my research better to understand the relationship between Egyptians and their cultural heritage. Then, I was able to provide the community with a program that met their needs and interests.


This week’s reading explained in detail the field of oral history. The article clarifies how to conduct an interview effectively. Also describes the best questions to be asked. She shared some examples of her oral history interviews. This article is beneficial for anyone who wants to learn about oral history. This article allowed those who do not have a background in oral history to learn more about how to conduct oral history projects. However, it was a very long article, and she added many examples, which made me lose my attention to the article’s main point.

[1] “Oral History Association.” n.d. Oral History Association. https://oralhistory.org/.

[2] Linda Shopes, “Making Sense of Oral History,” Oral History in the Digital Age. Making Sense of Oral History – Oral History in the Digital Age (msu.edu).

1 comment

  1. found it very interesting to read about your perspective on how oral history fits into public history work. I think you are right when thinking about how digital history, oral history, and public history are all highly related. It seems that today, digital tools are almost necessary for sharing and creating histories that are widely accessible.

    I also liked your discussion of the definition of Oral History. I think it is important to examine how we define certain disciplines, especially how different scholars or organizations define the same subject differently. I think historical definitions of oral history have been dismissive and inaccurate in relation to their portrayal of the discipline as non-academic or lesser than written or photographic records of history. Like you, I appreciate Linda Shopes’ more complicated definition of Oral History that honors the discipline as a multifaceted, ever-evolving dynamic discipline.

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