Oral history projects organized, performed, and/or administered by archives and libraries create opportunities for audiences dispersed by geography and date to hear first person accounts of personal and public events. Typically led or encouraged by a prepared interviewer who prompts for details or expansions on the featured speaker’s memories and observations, these histories arise without a pre-written script and so arrive in fully oral vernaculars: the pitches and tones of the subject, of course, but also the cadences of unfolding oral expression, and regional and idiosyncratic word choices that have become second nature to the speaker rather than being carefully selected to impress or hide from the audience.
A variety of public and arts and culture agencies have utilized the method for acquiring and preserving elderly community members who have experienced contrasting eras, been present through public disasters, or witnessed momentous political and/or social events. Unlike the historian or the journalist, the subject providing the oral history’s content comes to the table with a personal understanding from which the account is told, providing contemporary and future audiences with direct access to how the reported events and observations were experienced. Continue reading Closeup Listening