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Oral History for Beginners

Oral History for Beginners

February 2, 2021

If you look up the definition of “oral history” in the dictionary, you will learn that it is “the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events” (Oxford Dictionary). This definition seems straightforward, but it does not tell of the heart and soul that goes into the physical act of interviewing people.

Oral history can be a way to bring people together to pass stories and preserve memories of the past. Whether the interview is a survivor testimony from the devastating 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or the experiences of a performer at Santa-Cali-Gon Days in Independence, Missouri, the people who have personal knowledge of years gone by should have the chance to tell their stories and be remembered.

At its core, the act of oral history has existed in our world for hundreds of years. It may not have always been what we consider today as oral history, but stories have traveled through generations. The act of passing a story, a feeling, or a memory from one person to the next functioned as a means of communicating with others.

A conversation or interview can be a way to learn more about a person or topic of interest. Creating questions, finding a person to interview, or even finding a topic to learn more about is challenging, but not impossible. If you want to begin your own oral history journey, now is a perfect time to start! If you have little or no experience, there are books and guides to get you started.

One of my favorites is this highly popular manual in The Midwest Genealogy Center collection: Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide by Donald Ritchie, second edition. It provides a wonderful overview of oral history, how to get started on an oral history, how to conduct an oral history, and how to preserve the oral history.

If you want more information on tackling your oral history, or any project you might have, feel free to search MCPL’s digital catalog for resources.

Happy Interviewing!

Kaitlyn D.
The Story Center Intern

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