Conducting and writing an oral history has been ambiguously interesting, especially for me. I have been in constant battle within my brain about whether oral history, as a field, should or should not be considered a history. Beginning the course, I assumed that oral history was about the spoken word of folk tales through out human existence. I reminisced on the works we would read from old American Indian tribal tales to folklore of ancient Chinese traditions. Little did I think about the practice of these stories and how they still remained to this day, how each linguistic creation had been transcribed and moved through time. I would argue that oral history can’t possibly be credited under historical knowledge due to the complex natural of the human mind, the manipulation of perspective that can so easily be intertwined between fact, fiction and fantasy. It was hard for me to grasp the concept of perspective as a bases for historical doubt or historical truth.
One reading that further ingrained this uncertainty into my mind was the Portelli, Alessandro reading, “The Death of Luigi Trastulli.” This reading recognized the exact issue that I was dealing with. In one sections of the reading it states, “the denial of memory; its practitioners, outsiders who knew that, because they were uncovering a memory suppressed, they would be denied recognition as regular historians, they would be refused access to the essential tools of their art.” This showed me that I was not the only one and specifically not he first one to think this way about oral history. When did memory become an authorized account for history? To me it seemed that evidence drove history and personal accounts provided emotional depth required for human personal relation. The two never interacted in my mind, one was for universal acceptance, the other for individual reaction each seemed black and white to each other while oral history provided a gray area.
Once we started conducting our own oral histories I started to notice a few difference from what I expected, perhaps from reading or my perhaps from my own perception. I wish I could provide more information on what the interviewing process was like but, unfortunately I never conducted an interview. I used a previously recorded account and transcribed it. I can say that while listening to the interview I noticed some things. Frist, it is important to mention that my interview was during the 1970’s and the quality and even style was different. Do to the fact that my interviewee was recounting a story about a discovery and exploration the questions were rather straightforward and extremely broad. It allowed for a more conversation dynamic rather then an interview. What I mean by this is by starting with a very broad question about the exploration the interviewee was able to start the story with out really needing and promoting questions. This is something that I have learned, let the speaker talk! By only clarifying the story more with questing from the interview I was able to notice the amount of detail the narrator was able to deliver. So much detail in fact, that some of the interview was not needed in the narrative.
The transcription process was perhaps the most daunting experience that I have had in college. The time commitment was brutal. I use to not understand the importance of transcription but know I realize why it is needed. Hard copies of the interview provided a detailed and extremely close look at the type of wording the interviewee used. This was the most fascinating part of this experiences. I loved seeing how interviewees used their words to describe events and just what type of language they used to portray situations. I found this rather interesting in my peer’s oral histories as well.
I have so long been adjusted to a world of sciences, the concept that facts provided closure, truths can be justified, it was hard to let my mind considered oral history as a valid field of historical interpretations. But, that is just what it was, interpretations based on points in time where you did not exist, times so foreign to you that perspective, memory and insight into these stories is what builds a history within itself, as my professor always said, “it’s their story and to them it is very real.”
Portelli, Alessandro. (1990).“The Death of Luigi Trastulli, and Other Stories: Memory and Event.” EBSCO Publishing : eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost) via DRAKE UNIV AN: Account: s8886300.