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Oral History and Community Memory: Class Discussion Topics/Reading Schedule

  • What is Oral History and Who Does It?

Oral history is a very interdisciplinary craft. It is employed by historians, archivists, librarians, folklorists, anthropologists, educators, journalists, linguists, and genealogists.

  • The History of Oral History

All history begins with oral accounts dredged up from memories. The first historians in the world were oral historians: Thucydides and Herodotus.

The Regional Oral History Office at UC, Berkeley began with the work of publisher Hubert Howe Bancroft, who was interested in the nineteenth-century settlement of California.

Earliest transcript in archives of the Columbia Oral History Research Office contains a first-hand account of the 1863 draft riots in New York City.

    • Oral History Projects & Collections
  • What is Ethnography? (contact: Adam Frank)
    • Ethnography Projects and Collections
  • Impact of Oral History on the Community
    • Ethics & Sponsored Projects Office
    • Release Forms/Ownership
  • Oral History is Scholarly Work
    • Sources/Background Research
    • Compiling Interview Topics & Questions

Oral history involves structured interviewing techniques.

    • Knowledge Database: FranaWiki
    • Creating/Editing Wikis/Standards that Apply
    • Life History Forms
  • Interviewing
    • Interviewing Elites versus Ordinary People
    • Professional Demeanor/Public Relations/Correspondence

Oral history is a natural habitation for extroverts and conversationalists.

    • Interviewing Style/Silence/Location/Active Listening

The best advice I can share is that oral history involves experiential learning, that is, learning by doing.

    • Gathering Artifacts/Manuscript Material from Interviewee

As a rule of thumb decline all attempts on the part of interviewees to give you material in their personal possession that they might later want back. Be sure that the interviewee has access to any copies of texts or artifacts they may give you.

    • Interviewer’s Field Notes
  • Photography & Videography
    • Video Editing Software
    • Care of Ethnography Lab & Equipment
    • Paying for OH: Grants and Proposals for Clinton project/Arkansas Heritage Council/SURF
  • Transcription/Processing Transcripts/Footnoting
  • Archiving & Accessibility

The Internet has thrown open to millions the door to interview transcripts and audio archives.

  • Criticisms of Oral History
    • Memory

Different eyewitnesses to history will give different accounts, as is true of witnesses to crimes or accidents.

    • Intersubjectivity
    • Presentism/Creating Usable Pasts
    • Mythmaking
  • Types of Interviewing Products
    • Transcripts
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Curriculum Development
    • Oral History Documentaries/Musicals/Websites/Radio/Interpretive Skits

Guest Speakers

  • Arkansas Traveler’s Project (contact: Alli Hogue)
  • New Urbanism, Gentrification (contact: Patrick Taylor)
  • Clinton Library inner workings (contact: Skip Rutherford, Jose Guzzardi, Amanda Harris)
  • Clinton Library, Heifer International, Doe's Eat Place visit (contact: David Williams)
  • UCA Folklore Collection (contact: Jimmy Bryant)


  • Give an Overview of an Oral History Project or Collection
  • Downtown Revitalization
  • Read and Critique an existing Honors College Oral History: Clinton Project, Rick Scott, Women’s Abuse, HCOL history
  • Improving your methods/Reflecting on Interviews Conducted/Retrospective essay
  • Practice Interviewing on Each Other
  • Personal Project
  • Clinton Library & Downtown Little Rock Project
  • Practice Interviewing on Doctor/Final Exam