So you may be asking yourself, What is oral history? Isn’t it just the same as reading a textbook? And why should I care about it? The short answer is oral history is important and no, it is not the same as reading a textbook. In fact it is usually much more personal, relevant, and in-tune with actual events than reading a textbook or a book of non-fiction.
Oral history is defined as the study of history using sound recordings and interviews with people who experienced historical events of the past. It can be the interview of a family member who fought in a war, or a relative who was alive and remembers a historical event such as the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Vietnam War. Oral history can be interviews from politicians, celebrities, military personnel, or in many cases, a ‘regular’ person who experienced any given event.
Now that we have discussed what oral history is and that it is not the same as reading a textbook, the next question is, Why should I care about it? The answer to this question lies in what kind of information we want to know about the past. If we simply want to know what Presidents, Prime Ministers and others said and did we can do so by reading and going through document after document.
But, if we want to know how the bombing of Britain during World War Two impacted the everyday citizen, or how everyday people coped with the turbulent 1960s and conflicts like World War One and World War Two, we need to talk to those people. They may include friends of relatives, people on the street, or, in many cases, family members. On a more personal level, I have asked my grandparents to record their memories of the past so that when they do pass away there will be documentation of what they personally went through during the Second World War, the Korean War, and all of history since then.
So much information and knowledge can be gathered through personal recollections and thoughts, and, if they are not documented verbally now, we risk losing them forever. Younger generations should ask older ones to record verbally what life was like growing up when they did, what experiences they went through, and how it shaped their lives.
If we don’t record thoughts soon they will be lost…. forever