Oral History and the Academy: An Assessment for the Mellon Foundation

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Background Paper: Oral History

Linda Shopes, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission


Definitions
Let us begin with a discussion of definition, both to establish a framework for
what follows and to raise at the outset key issues in thinking about and doing oral history
that will resurface later in this essay. “Oral history,” like the term “history,” has both
several popular or vernacular meanings, as well as a more precise scholarly or
disciplinary meaning. In common parlance, oral history sometimes refers to recorded
speech of any kind; or to talking about the past in ways ranging from casual reminiscing
among family members, neighbors, or coworkers to ritualized accounts presented by
culturally sanctioned tradition-bearers in a formal setting. Most typically, it refers to
what we might call personal experience stories about a particular time or place or event, a
form apotheosized by the work of Studs Terkel, whose multiple volumes of oral history
have certainly popularized the term; and more recently of David Isay, whose StoryCorps
project is rekindling interest in the storied quality of everyday life. Commonly, the term
registers a certain democratic or populist meaning; oral history implies a recognition of
the heroics of everyday life, a celebration of the quotidian, an appeal to the visceral.1

The author is indebted to oral history colleagues on the Mellon Project Committee who have helped frame
the ideas in this document, including Albert Broussard, Madelyn Campbell, Thomas Charlton, and Laurie
Mercier; and to Oral History Association Council members Roger Horowitz, Kathryn Nasstrom, Horatio
Roque Ramirez, and Kim Lacy Rogers. Thanks are also due to staff at Baylor University’s Institute for
Oral History who compiled and analyzed survey data for this document: Rebecca Shulda, administrative
associate; Elinor Mazé, senior editor; and student assistants Dolph Briscoe IV, Leslee Elliott, Jenni Dean,
Pearl Jumo, and Claudia Tijerina. Rebecca Sharpless deserves particular thanks: as director of Baylor’s
Institute for Oral History, OHA president, and chair of OHA’s Mellon Project Committee, her work,
ranging from mundane tasks of data gathering to thoughtful reflections on oral history’s place within the
academy and academic scholarship, has been essential to the development of this document and to
whatever success the larger project enjoys.

1
As to the term “oral history” itself, most attribute its first use to describe the practice of interviewing
participants in past events to Allen Nevins, founder of Columbia University’s Oral History Research
Oral History 2
For scholars, however, oral history generally has a more precise, bounded
meaning. The Oral History Association defines oral history as “a method of gathering
and preserving historical information through recorded interviews with participants in
past events and ways of life.” Donald Ritchie, in his popular guide, Doing Oral History,
describes it as “collect[ing] memories and personal commentaries of historical
significance through recorded interviews.” He continues: “An oral history interview
generally consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and
recording their exchange in audio or video format. Recordings of the interview are
transcribed, summarized, or indexed and then placed in a library or archives. These
interviews may be used for research or excerpted in a publication, radio or video
documentary, museum exhibition, dramatization or other form of public presentation.”
And Valerie Yow, in her well regarded Recording Oral History, states that “oral history
is the recording of personal testimony delivered in oral form.” Distinguishing this
practice from memoir, she notes that in oral history “there is someone else involved who
frames the topic and inspires the narrator to begin the act of remembering, jogs memory,
and records and presents the narrator’s words.” Recognizing that various terms are used

Office. However, Charles Morrissey has identified use of the term to refer to something approximating
contemporary practice in 1863; and in 1942, the New Yorker reported on the work of Joe Gould, a
Greenwich Village eccentric who claimed to be writing “An Oral History of Our Time” (there is no
evidence that such a document ever existed). Oral historians find the term maddeningly imprecise and
debated its utility during the early years of the Oral History Association. But, as Louis Starr wrote in 1974:
“Heaven knows, oral history is bad enough, but is has the sanction of a quarter century’s usage, whereas
presumably more beguiling substitutes like living history and oral documentation and sundry other
variants have gone by the boards. Oral history is a misnomer to be sure. Let us cheerfully accept that fact
that, like social security or the Holy Roman Empire, it is now hopelessly embedded in the language: one
encounters it on every hand.” The term has stuck. See Charles T. Morrissey, “Why Call It ‘Oral History’?
Searching for Early Usage of a Generic Term,” The Oral History Review 1980 (1980), pp. 20-48.
Oral History 3
to describe this same activity, she concludes that “oral history seems to be the [term]
most frequently used to refer to the recorded in depth interview.”2
These definitions suggest five characteristics of oral history as a professional,
disciplined practice. It is, first of all, an interview, an exchange between someone who
asks questions, that is, an interviewer, and someone who answers them, variously referred
to as the interviewee, narrator, or informant. It is not simply someone telling a story; it is
someone telling a story in response to the particular queries of another. Second, oral
history is recorded, preserved for the record, and made accessible to others for a variety
of uses. Ritchie goes so far as to say that “an interview becomes an oral history only
when it has been recorded, processed in some way, made available in an archive, library,
or other repository, or reproduced in relatively verbatim form for publication.
Availability for general research, reinterpretation, and verification defines oral history.”3
Third, oral history interviewing is historical in intent. It seeks information about and
insights into the past from the perspective of the narrator. It is grounded in historical

2
Oral History Association, “Oral History Association,” http://www.dickinson.edu/oha/. Donald A. Ritchie,
Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 19; Valerie
Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd ed. (Walnut
Creek, Calif: AltaMira Press, 2005), pp. 3-4.
3
Ritchie, p. 24; see also, Ronald J. Grele, “Viewpoint: Why Call It Oral History? Some Ruminations from
the Field,” Pennsylvania History 60:4 (October 1993), pp. 506-509. But note: There is some debate even
within the Oral History Association (OHA) about permanent preservation and public access as defining
characteristics of oral history. This matter was debated by members of the OHA Council and the
committee selecting the winner of the Association’s 2003 Book Award, which recognizes significant work
in oral history. In an email exchange with Book Award Committee Chair Tracy K’Meyer, OHA President
Arthur Hansen reported, “The sense of the Council is that the award should be given to the best book
irrespective of whether . . . the interviews cited in the book are deposited in a public archives” (August 5,
2003). K’Meyer strenuously objected to this decision, citing the OHA’s Principles and Standards, which
state that “with the permission of the interviewees interviewers should arrange to deposit their interviews in
an archival repository that is capable of both preserving the interviews and eventually making them
available for general use;” and asking, “How then can we give an Association award to an author that
violates our won principals [sic]?” (n.d.). Council discussion of the matter continued and minutes of its
October 7, 2003 meeting record that “no clear consensus was reached.” See Oral History Association,
Executive Council Meeting, October 7, 2003 [p. 5]; available at http://www.dickinson.edu/oha/pdf/org
abus_ecom03.pdf.
Oral History 4
questions deemed of some significance by either – and hopefully both – parties to the
interview. While the same or similar questions may be posed to a number of
interviewees in a given project, oral history interviews are not opinion polls or surveys of
current attitudes and behaviors of the sort conducted by sociologists, political scientists,
or other social scientists. Fourth, oral history recognizes an element of subjectivity;
interviews record “memories” and “personal commentaries,” not the unmediated “facts”
of what happened in the past. An interview, therefore, is an interpretation of the past; and
itself requires interpretation for its meaning to be elucidated. And fifth, an oral history
interview is understood as an inquiry “in depth.” It is not a casual conversation, a
pleasant little trip down memory lane, but a planned, serious, and searching exchange,
one that seeks a detailed, expansive, and reflective account of the past.
As we will see below, this characterization of oral history is grounded in the
history of the field and establishes its significance and value as both method and source.
For now suffice to say that it is what distinguishes academic from popular notions; and
within the academy, defines a particular kind of interviewing. There is, however, a
frequent blurring of boundaries, sometimes an uncomfortable disconnect. Scholarly
practitioners of oral history working with local groups frequently find that enthusiasm for
recording local stories is not matched by an even rudimentary understanding of the
methodology involved; and that vernacular understandings of what merits recording and
preserving are often at variance with scholarly understandings of the relevant historical
questions. And within the academy, there are many examples of scholars both within and
outside of the field of history who have conducted what they consider to be oral history
interviews who nonetheless fail to make their interviews publicly accessible; or whose
Oral History 5
interviews focus on contemporary social relations with or without a historical dimension.
Is this work properly considered “oral history”? Or not?

History4
It is perhaps clichéd to aver that throughout human history most knowledge of the
past has been transmitted orally, in cultural forms ranging from epic poetry to
conversation around the dinner table. That this was true before the advent of widespread
literacy is indisputable; yet it remains true today for many people, in many parts of the
world, and for certain categories of historical knowledge: how many well educated
westerners, for example, know the histories of their families by any means other than the
spoken word?
More relevant to this discussion, historians have long used oral sources for their
work, either conducting interviews of their own or drawing upon first hand accounts
recorded and preserved by others. No less than the ancient historian Thucydides
interviewed participants for his history of the Peloponnesian War, observing that
“different eye-witnesses give different accounts of the same events, speaking out of
partiality for one side or the other or else from imperfect memories.”5 The eighth century
monk Bede conducted interviews for his History of the English Church and People, as
did the nineteenth century French historian Jules Michelet for his History of the French
Revolution. Accounts of Aztec and Inca life, recorded by Spanish chroniclers in the

4
This discussion is much indebted to Rebecca Sharpless, “The History of Oral History,” and Ronald J.
Grele, “Oral History As Evidence,” chapters 1 & 2 respectively in Research Handbook of Oral History,
Thomas Charlton, Lois Myers, Rebecca Sharpless, eds. (Lanham, Md.: Alta Mira Press, 2006). See
also Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1988), especially chapter 2, “Historians and Oral History.”
5
Quoted in Ritchie, p. 20.
Oral History 6
sixteenth century, and of nineteenth century Mexican and American settlers in California
recorded by Hubert Howe Bancroft and his assistants, remain valuable sources for
historians working today. Similarly, Henry Mayhew’s inquiry into the living and
working conditions of London’s working classes in the mid nineteenth century is only the
first in a long line of investigations that have relied heavily on evidence obtained by
talking with the subjects of the inquiry; these social studies have both goaded reform and
informed scholarly history. For historians of the United States, perhaps the most notable
early collection of interviews are the thousands of life histories of individuals from
various regional, occupational, and ethnic groups recorded by Federal Writers Project
(FWP) workers during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The best known of the FWP life
histories are the "slave narratives;" rediscovered in the 1970s, they have become
important sources for a reorientation of the historiography of American slavery from one
that views slaves primarily as victims to one that recognizes the active agency of
enslaved persons within a system of bondage.6
Yet for all of these and dozens more examples, reliance on oral sources fell into
disfavor during the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, as the practice of
history became increasingly professionalized and as positivism became the reigning
scholarly paradigm. The German historian Leopold von Ranke’s dictum that the goal of
history was to recount “how it really was” (wie es eigentlich gewesen) described a form
of scholarship that increasingly attempted a reconstruction of the past through careful
examination of the (paper) documentary record; or as C.-V. Langlois and Charles

6
On the slave narratives as sources for the study of slavery in the United States, see George P. Rawick,
From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1972);
John Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1972); and Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordon, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1974).
Oral History 7
Seignobos, two nineteenth century French historians, put it: “The historian works with
documents. . . . There is no substitute for documents: no documents, no history.”
Reliance on what had often been a more informal practice of talking with people thus
became suspect. And indeed, early efforts to record firsthand accounts of the past were
often idiosyncratic or extemporaneous affairs, conducted according to methods that were
more or less rigorous in any given case and with no intention of developing a permanent
archival collection. Furthermore, the absence of audio- and videotape recorders--or
digital recording devices--necessitated reliance on human note-takers, thus raising
questions about reliability and veracity.7
This, then, is the context within which the Columbia University historian Allan
Nevins established in the late 1940s what is generally accepted as the first oral history
program in the United States, the Oral History Research Office at Columbia. Working on
a biography of President Grover Cleveland in the early 1930s, Nevins found that
Cleveland's associates left few of the kinds of personal records--letters, diaries, memoirs-
-upon which biographers generally rely. Moreover, he reasoned, the bureaucratization of
public affairs was tending to standardize the paper trail, and the telephone was replacing
personal correspondence. Nevins came up then with the idea of conducting interviews
with participants in recent history to supplement the written record; in his influential
Gateway to History, he wrote of the need “for obtaining a little of the immense mass of
information about the more recent American past—the past of the last half century—
which might come fresh and direct from men once prominent in politics, in business, in
the professions, and in other fields; information that every obituary column shows to be

7
Von Ranke is quoted in Thompson, p. 50; Langlois and Seignobos, p. 51.
Oral History 8
perishing.”8 It took a decade for this idea to reach fruition: Nevins and his amanuensis--
for these first interviews were recorded in longhand—conducted their first interview in
1948 with New York civic leader George McAneny.
Following the establishment of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia, the
University of California at Berkeley set up the Regional Oral History Office in the
Bancroft Library in 1954; and five years later, in 1959, the University of California at
Los Angeles instituted its Oral History Program, also affiliated with the library. Whereas
these and a few other early programs developed interviewing projects on a variety of
subjects, generally determined by available funding, other university affiliated oral
history projects focused on specific topics: the University of Texas began interviewing
pioneers of the oil industry in 1952; Tulane University began its New Orleans Jazz
Archives in 1958; and the University of Michigan, its United Auto Workers Project in
1959. The Harry S. Truman Library inaugurated its oral history project in 1961, thus
initiating the practice of oral history at presidential libraries. Columbia’s 1965 annual
report listed some eighty-nine projects nationwide, no doubt fostered in part by the
development of recording technologies.9
By the mid-1960s, oral history was well enough established enough to form its
own organization: the Oral History Association (OHA) was founded in 1967, a year after
an initial meeting brought together some seventy-seven people variously involved in oral
history. Louis Starr, who had succeeded Nevins as head of the Columbia program,

8
Quoted in Louis Starr, “Oral History,” in Oral History: An Interdisciplinary Anthology, David K. Dunn
and Willa K. Baum, eds. (Nashville: American Association of State and Local History, 1984), p. 8.
9
Wire recorders, based on German Magnetophones captured during World War II, first became available
in 1948; Columbia began using them to record interviews in 1949. Wire recorders were supplanted by reel
to reel recorders, then in the mid-1960s by cassette tape recorders, which became standard for oral history
until the digital revolution at the end of the twentieth century.
Oral History 9
served as its first president. After publishing its annual proceedings for five years, in
1973 the association began publishing an annual journal, the Oral History Review.
Recognizing the need to codify standards for oral history, it developed the first iteration
of the current Oral History Evaluation Guidelines: Principles and Standards of the Oral
History Association in 1968.10
Unlike previous interviewing initiatives, these early oral history projects were
distinguished by their systematic and disciplined approach: they developed a body of
interviews on a single topic, were grounded in considerable research in the extant record,
and were designed to fill in gaps in that record. They were explicitly archival: the point
was to record on tape, preserve, and make available for future research recollections
deemed of historical significance. Oral history’s origin as an archival practice of broadly
historical intent has shaped its development in significant ways; archival exigencies have
defined what are generally understood as fundamental, if not unproblematic, features of
oral history and have been codified by the OHA in its various iterations of its Evaluation
Guidelines. Two merit our attention here. There is, first of all, the matter of releases:
because interviews are intended for the permanent record, laws of copyright obtain; and
these laws deem the interviewee to be the owner of the copyright (the status of the
interviewer is less clear). It is by means of the legal release form that the interviewee
signs over or “releases” to the sponsoring institution – or individual researcher or the
repository that accepts completed interviews – rights to the interview. Secondly, there is
the matter of transcription: transcribing interviews, that is rendering recorded speech in

10
The 1968 document, termed “Goals and Guidelines,” was considerably amplified as a checklist of
“evaluation guidelines” in 1979, and then revised in 1990 and again in 1998 to take into account new issues
and concerns, including advances in technology and various uses of oral history. The current iteration,
Oral History Evaluation Guidelines: Principles and Standards of the Oral History Association, is available
at http://www.dickinson.edu/oha/pub_eg.html.
Oral History 10
writing, improves scholarly access enormously; and because the fullest, most accurate
account is desired, best practice requires transcribed interviews to be returned to the
narrator for corrections, amplifications, emendations.11
The need for releases and the practice of returning transcripts to narrators for
review give the narrator enormous control over the presentation of his story, appropriate
perhaps in the collaborative enterprise that is an interview, but also problematic: a
narrator can place terms and conditions on the release and can delete unflattering,
potentially embarrassing but historically significant information from the final transcript.
And whether transcripts should be verbatim renderings of what is on the tape or edited
documents, akin to publications, remains debatable. Transcribing is also time consuming
and expensive and hence the privilege of well funded oral history projects; a constant
concern in oral history is the enormous number of untranscribed interviews.
Oral history in the early years was also something of a maverick practice,
dismissed by most historians, with their devotion to the documentary record, as unreliable
hearsay, a source of anecdote or color but little else. Hence one finds a certain
defensiveness among practitioners, an emphasis on the validity, reliability, and
representativeness of interviews, an effort to demonstrate that oral history is a source like
any other, to be mined in the empirical tradition for facts in service to historians’
reconstruction of the past.12 Oral history’s marginalization within the academy was no

11
For years oral historians accepted the transcript – as the most accessible document – as the primary
document of an oral history interview; and in fact some programs early on destroyed or reused the tapes.
Only recently has the general consensus shifted to regard the recorded interview – the oral narrative – as
the primary document.
12
This view of oral history was perhaps best expressed in William Moss’s, “Oral History: An
Appreciation,” appearing in American Archivist 40:4 (October 1977), pp. 429-39
Oral History 11
doubt furthered by the fact that early programs were typically located within university
libraries and archives, rather than within history departments.
In line with the dominant historiography of the period, early oral history programs
at Columbia and elsewhere also tended to focus on the "elite"--leaders in business, the
professions, politics, and social life. But by the 1970s, oral history's scope had widened
considerably, in response to historians’ growing interest in the experiences of "non-
elites,” or what became known as the new social history. While archival projects
continued to proliferate – a 1973 directory listed some 316 oral history centers –
increasingly, individual scholars were finding oral history essential for recovering the
experiences of those to whom they were now turning their attention, including women,
racial and ethnic minorities, the working classes, and, more recently, those marginalized
by their sexual identities. While broader social and intellectual currents account for this
profound historiographic shift, oral history played an important role: interviews not only
added new knowledge about these groups to the historical record; they restored voice,
agency, and interpretive authority to those whom the extant record often objectified. To
cite only one example, John Bodnar’s 1985 book The Transplanted, its title deliberately
playing off Oscar Handlin’s 1951 work The Uprooted and its interpretation deeply
influenced by dozens of oral history interviews, represented “the second wave” of
Eastern and Southern European immigrants to the United States not as disoriented and
“uprooted,” anomic individuals, unable to gain a footing in the new world, but as men
Oral History 12
and women actively deploying a range of creative strategies to fashion a new life as
transplants in the new world.13
Its contributions to new scholarship notwithstanding, as oral history moved out of
the archives and into the hands of individual scholars, practitioners did not always adhere
to established archival standards with the same rigor as the pioneering oral history
projects. Some scholar-interviewers were unwilling to pursue topics that lay outside their
immediate areas of interest, thereby limiting interviews’ usefulness to others; and
questions arose about their ability to maintain an appropriate level of detachment in light
of their own interpretive agendas. In addition, individual scholars, less concerned about
the future use of interviews and often with fewer resources than ongoing archival
projects, sometimes failed to secure release forms, or to transcribe interviews, or even to
place them in public archives.14 Recognizing the need for a wider promulgation of
standards for oral history among historians, in 1989 the American Historical Association
(AHA), in cooperation with the OHA, developed its “Statement on Interviewing for
Historical Documentation,” a shorter document than OHA’s Evaluation Guidelines and
directed specifically at scholars conducting interviews as part of their individual research
projects.15
Oral history’s capacity for democratizing history extended beyond the subjects of
interviews. Increasingly during the 1970s and on into the present, local groups--
historical societies, museums, and libraries and also churches, unions, and other

13
John Bodnar, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1985); Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made
the American People (Boston: Little Brown, 1951).
14
Editors of two oral history series have estimated that releases have not been secured for perhaps one half
of the interviews used in manuscripts they have reviewed.
15
“Statement on Interviewing for Historical Documentation,” at
http://www.historians.org/profession/InterviewingForHistoricalDocumentation.cfm.
Oral History 13
grassroots groups--have developed oral history projects to document and celebrate their
own history. Indeed, it is probably accurate to state that since the mid-1970s, at least as
many oral history projects have been located outside the academy as within it – of the
316 oral history centers identified in the 1973 directory cited above, for example, 159
were located outside of colleges and universities. While full consideration of this work
lies outside the scope of this discussion, it also resulted in an important blurring of
boundaries, as academic scholars became involved in these community-based projects as
organizers, workshop leaders, consultants, and collaborators.
Especially in the early years, many of these projects were grounded in a
progressive politics, including especially feminism; they found oral history to be an
especially powerful and accessible means of affirming a cultural identity degraded and
denied by the dominant culture, as well as a means of consciousness-raising as a prelude
to activism and change. Much important work resulted from these projects, including
forceful critiques of ivory tower scholarship, the politics of interviewing, and the uses to
which the knowledge so generated could and should be put. At times, however, this work
lacked analytic rigor and veered towards a romanticization of the people (or the person)
under consideration. Michael Frisch, who had criticized the positivist approach to oral
history as simply “more history,” in which interviews are understood as “another kind of
evidence to be pushed through the historian’s controlling mill,” was equally critical of
this romantic strain in oral history, referring to it as “anti-history,” that is, viewing “oral
historical evidence because of its immediacy and emotional resonance, as something
almost beyond interpretation or accountability, as a direct window on the feelings
and…[hence] on the meaning of past experience.” At the same time, another strand of
Oral History 14
community work was quite unselfconsciously conservative in intent, pursuing a past
laced with nostalgia, taking delight in the details and rhythms of everyday life in the past
with little sense of context. This work has pointed up the much discussed, and much
lamented difference between academic and popular notions of history and remains a
continuing challenge.16
More recently, scholarly involvement in community oral history projects has
taken place under the rubric of “public history.” Of the fifty US programs listed in the
National Council on Public History’s 2001 Guide to Graduate Programs in Public
History, twenty six include a specialization in oral history;17 the real number is probably
much higher. And the scholarly stance now tends towards “negotiation” or dialogue
about who gets to tell what about a given community or group, about the way in which a
community’s interest in presenting a positive self-image must be held in tandem with a
scholar’s interest in a more critical approach. Less well understood, however, is the way
local oral history projects can open up new scholarly questions, the way knowledge
gleaned from such interviews can suggest new interpretations. Scholars still pretty much
approach community work from a supply side perspective – we “supply” you with
expertise; there is little discussion, practical or theoretical, of the other side of the
equation.18


16
Michael Frisch, A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), pp. 159-160. See also Linda Shopes, “The Baltimore
Neighborhood Heritage Project: Oral History and Community Involvement,” in Presenting the Past:
Critical Perspectives on History and the Public, Susan Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, eds.
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), pp. 249-263.
17
Guide to Graduate Programs in Public History, National Council on Public History staff, comp. and ed.
(National Council on Public History: Indianapolis, 2001).
18
See Rose T. Diaz and Andrew B. Russell, “Oral Historians: Community Oral History and the
Cooperative Ideal,” in Public History: Essays from the Field, James B. Gardner and Peter S. LaPaglia, eds.
(Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing Company, 1999), pp. 203-216.
Oral History 15
Some scholars have also connected oral history with broader humanitarian and
civic concerns, participating in projects that attempt to document and hence make public
human rights abuses in former totalitarian regimes; or to reconcile (former) antagonists;
or, like the various 9/11 projects, to memorialize and make sense of events that are at
once profoundly tragic and profoundly political. These efforts build upon earlier work to
document traumatic historical events like the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese
Americans during World War II, becoming simultaneously a means of documentation, an
intervention into what might be termed “unfinished history,” and a form of both
individual and collective reckoning.
Given the extent of scholarly involvement in oral history both for both individual
research and community or civically based projects, it is probably fair to say that by the
last decades of the twentieth century, oral history was reasonably well established and
reasonably well accepted within the academy. Several markers of acceptance might be
noted: the establishment in 1972 of a decade-long doctoral program in oral history at
Duke University, with sizable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation; the wide regard
for Theodore Rosengarten’s 1974 book, All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw,
based on dozens of hours of interviews with Shaw, a black Alabama sharecropper; the
inclusion of an annual section on oral history in the Journal of American History from
1987 to 2002; the recognition accorded to Like a Family: The Making of a Southern
Cotton Mill World, based on hundreds of interviews conducted by the Southern Oral
History Program at the University of North Carolina, which in 1988 won both the AHA’s
Albert J. Beveridge Award and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Merle
Curti Award. An essay appearing in the 1986 issue of the Oral History Review noted that
Oral History 16
historical journals were routinely reviewing books based on oral history; and since 2001,
publications that draw substantially upon oral history have won some twenty-two book
and article prizes awarded by the AHA and the OAH.19
Of course, the evidentiary value of oral history as used by social historians has
been not without its critics. Historian Louise Tilly, for example, with a decided bias
towards quantitative evidence, referred to personal testimony, with its emphasis on the
individual, as “ahistorical and unscientific.”20 Nonetheless, the dominance of social
history in the academy during the 1970s and 1980s muted much of the earlier criticism
directed at oral history; and indeed one of oral history’s greatest contributions to
scholarship to date is the role it has played in restoring to the record the voice of the
historiographically--if not historically--silent.
Nonetheless, though the intent and topics of oral history interviews had shifted by
the 1970s, as a source interviews were generally viewed much as they had been by earlier
archival projects, as transparent documents in the positivist tradition, purveyors of facts
that were adjudged to be either true or false. Some oral historians, however, were
gradually beginning to understand that something more was going on in an interview:
that what a narrator said had something to do with the questions posed, the mental set of
both narrator and interviewer, and the relationship between them; that narrators were in

19
Theodore Rosengarten, All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
1974; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, Mary Murphy, Lu Ann Jones, and
Christopher B. Daly, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1987); Linda Shopes, “Developing a Critical Dialogue about Oral History: Some
Notes Based on an Analysis of Book Reviews,” Oral History Review, 14:1 (1986), pp. 9-25. On the Duke
University program, see Alphine W. Jefferson, “Echoes from the South: The Duke University Oral History
Program, 1972-1982,” The Oral History Review 12 (1984), pp. 43-62.
20
Louise Tilly, “Louise Tilly’s Response to Thompson, Passerini, Bertaux-Wiame, and Portelli,”
International Journal of Oral History 6:1 (February 1985), p. 41. For the full debate, see Tilly, “People’s
History and Social Science History,” and Paul Thompson, Luisa Passerini, Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame, and
Alessandro Portelli, “Between Social Scientists: Reponses to Tilly,” International Journal of Oral History
6:1 (February 1985), pp. 5-39.
Oral History 17
some ways telling stories, compressing years of living into a form that often was shaped
by culturally defined narrative conventions; that memory was not so much about the
accuracy of an individual’s recall but about how and why people remembered what they
did.
Michael Frisch was perhaps the first to raise these sorts of questions in a 1972
review of Studs Terkel’s Hard Times. Unlike many reviewers, who lionized the book as
the pure “voice of the people,” Frisch found the stories of individual failure and
collective survival troubling, leading him to ask: “At what distance, in what ways, for
what reasons, and in what patterns do people generalize, explain, and interpret
experience? What cultural and historical categories do individuals use to help understand
and present a view of experience?” By opening up these sorts of questions, Frisch
suggested, “oral history…encourages us to stand somewhat outside of cultural forms in
order to observe their workings. Thus it permits us to track the elusive beats of
consciousness and culture in way impossible to do within.” Oral history has similarly
been problematized by Ronald J. Grele in a number of essays published in the 1970s and
collected in his The Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History. Among his many
insights is the especially fruitful one that an interview is a conversational narrative that
incorporates three sets of structures, linguistic, performatory, and cognitive; and that an
analysis of these structures tells us a good deal about “what is going on” in an interview.
And in what is perhaps the most cited article in the oral history literature, Alessandro
Portelli analyzed why oral accounts of the death of Italian steel worked Luigi Trastulli,
who had been shot during a workers’ rally protesting NATO in 1949, routinely got the
date, place, and reason for his death wrong. He argued that narrators manipulated the
Oral History 18
facts of Trastulli’s death to render it less senseless and more comprehensible to them, that
“errors, inventions, and myths lead us through and beyond facts to their meaning.”21
It is difficult to summarize what is a diverse, complex literature, but at bottom is
the notion that interviews are hermeneutic acts, situated in history. Meaning is conveyed
through language, which in turn is shaped by memory, myth, and ideology. Interviews
thus offer clues into narrators’ subjectivities, or more accurately, the play of
Subjectivities--the intersubjectivity--between narrator and interviewer. They are not
documents in the traditional sense, but texts, to be interpreted for ways narrators
understand their lives, their place in history, the way history works. Such a view
explodes the whole notion of “accuracy” and points to questions of meaning.
While this approach to interviews may have arisen from direct engagement with
interviews, it also reflected broader intellectual trends of the last two decades, including
cultural studies, or what has been termed “the linguistic turn” in scholarship; and identity
politics, with its emphasis on languages of power. It has also been stimulated by the
growing internationalization of oral history: beginning in 1979, oral historians from
around the world have been meeting biennially under the aegis of what became
formalized in 1989 as the International Oral History Association. Beginning in 1980 and
through the end of the 1990s, much of the work presented at these meetings was
published in a series of journals and annual publications, including the International
Journal of Oral History published from 1980 though 1990. Though these means, U.S.

21
Michael Frisch, Oral History Review 7 (1979), pp. 76, 78; originally published in Red Buffalo, 1:2/3
(1972). Ronald J. Grele, Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History (Chicago: Precedent Publishers,
1985). Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1991), p. 2; originally published as “La memoria e l’evento. L’assassinio de Luigi
Trastulli,” Segno Critico [Perugia, Italy]. II, 4 (1981).
Oral History 19
oral historians have become conversant with the work of their more theoretically inclined
Continental colleagues.
It must be acknowledged, however, that oral history’s move to interpretive
complexity has not been fully embraced by all who conduct or use interviews. Some are
concerned that critical analyses of interview texts create scholarly products that objectify
narrators, distancing them from their own words and from the populist impulses that
drive much work in oral history. Others are concerned that a focus on the subjective,
textual nature of interviews will obviate the need to triangulate them with other sources
and assess their veracity; or, as one colleague has put it, “that it [oral history] will become
overly self-conscious and become more concerned about itself than the topics it can be
used to explore.”22
Nonetheless, an interest in a more theoretically informed oral history has led some
practitioners to look to fields other than history for ways of understanding interviews:
psychology, for understanding the interview relationship; communications, for the
linguistic nature of the interview exchange; folklore and literary studies, for the storied
quality of interviews; anthropology for the culture clash that often occurs as two different
mentalities collide within the narrative; performance studies for the performative quality
of interviews; gerontology for understanding the way the imperatives of aging shape an
interview. Indeed while oral history remains centered primarily within history
departments, much of the most creative thinking about oral history comes from
practitioners trained and working in these other fields. Oral history may well be among

22
Quote from an anonymous respondent to one of the surveys conducted by OHA as part of this Mellon
Project, discussed below, p. 12.
Oral History 20
the best--and perhaps least acknowledged--exemplars of what Clifford Geertz some
quarter century ago argued was a blurring of genres in scholarly work.23
While interdisciplinarity has thus become the hallmark of much oral history, it is
less clear how oral history has penetrated other disciplines in a meaningful way.
Certainly some fields employ an interview methodology, but oral historians (if not the
practitioners) don’t consider it oral history: the interviews are often ahistorical in intent,
on the one hand circumscribed by a narrowly focused set of survey questions, on the
other, encompassing a broader fieldwork exchange. Frequently, their interviews are not
archived, for many the sine qua non of oral history. A notable exception is the recently
published Remembering: Oral History Performance, a collection of essays edited by
Della Pollock that derive from the field of communications and seriously engage issues
related to the use of oral history in performance. The Interdisciplinary Pain Project at
UCLA also shows promise for integrating oral history within a multidisciplinary project
in ways that stretch and enrich its work: interviews are being conducted with children
living in chronic pain “to reconstruct how narrativity itself is shaped in these conditions,
under chronic pain…to understand historical consciousness as it takes shape, but in
conditions distinct from ‘the normal’."24

Current Status
It is difficult to assess the current status of oral history in the academy, as there is
little comprehensive, precise data available. The discussion that follows is thus

23
Clifford Geertz, "Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought," The American Scholar 29.2
(1980), pp. 165-179.
24
Della Pollock, ed., Remembering: Oral History Performance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
Margaret Jacob, “Historians with Pain,” AHA Perspectives (November 2005), available at
http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2005/0511/0511rec1.cfm.
Oral History 21
suggestive rather than definitive; it is laden with verbs in the conditional tense and
adverbs that hedge a statement; it includes a number of observations that are reasonably,
if not precisely less accurate. As part of this Mellon project, the OHA conducted several
on-line surveys: of OHA members; of participants in H-Oralhist and H-Grad; and of
directors of oral history programs and centers and selected public historians. It analyzed
its membership data and surveyed syllabi for courses that include an oral history
component. It also consulted with colleagues in the field, including members of the
association’s Council and representatives to this Mellon project. All of this has proven
enormously interesting and valuable, but it hardly provides a comprehensive or definitive
view of the field. In particular approximately three-fourths of the respondents (of a total
of 190) to the on-line surveys are OHA members, thus skewing results to those who not
only are involved in and knowledgeable about oral history, but who also find some
professional value attached to an affiliation with oral history. (For detailed responses to
quantitative questionnaires, see Appendix 1, Quantitative Results from Oral Historians’
Survey, Spring 2006.)
So, with these caveats, one might begin this final section by asserting quite boldly
that oral history is everywhere: in the archives, in scholarly publications, in the
classroom, in media productions, in communities. Between 2001 and 2005, individual
membership in the Oral History Association has averaged 777. The association
maintains no employment data on its members, but of the 326 members who used an
institutional address in 2005, 185 (56.7 percent) were located in colleges and universities,
the remaining 141 spread among businesses (10.7 percent), museums and historical
societies (8.9 percent), nonacademic libraries (4.3 percent), and other institutions (19.3
Oral History 22
percent). These data suggest that the association’s membership is quite diverse, including
sizable numbers of both academic and non academic (but not necessarily non-scholarly)
practitioners. (For OHA membership data, see Appendix 2.) There is also a network of
state and regional oral history associations, whose total membership likely exceeds that
of OHA, the majority of whom are not also OHA members.25 Also, while specific data is
unavailable, it is probably accurate to state that most who formally affiliate with an oral
history organization, thereby identifying professionally with oral history, are not
employed full time as “oral historians;” indeed, few such positions exist. For those
employed as faculty, oral history is one field among several; for those employed in other
professions, such archivists and librarians, oral history is part of a broader set of
competencies. Exceptions are the relatively small number of individuals who are self
employed as oral historians; and the even smaller number of oral history program
directors at academic institutions who are not afforded faculty status.
Affiliation with an oral history organization, however, hardly measures the full
extent of those who “do oral history,” both within the academy and without. For
example, of the twenty-one AHA/OAH award winning authors since 2001 whose work
has drawn upon oral history, only two (9.5 percent) are OHA members. Indeed, it is
reasonable to assume that most who are in one way or another involved with oral history
lie outside its organizational ambit. From this one might surmise that their professional
identities are not strongly associated with oral history but some broader field – in the case

25
The current (2004) issue of OHA’s Membership Directory and Annual Report lists nine state and
regional groups, including the Chicago Oral History Roundtable, Michigan Oral History Association, New
England Association for Oral History, Northwest Oral History Association, Oral History Association of
Minnesota, Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, Southern Oral History Organization, Southwest Oral
History Association, and Texas Oral History Association. Of the 655 members of four of the largest of
these groups – Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, Northwest, and Texas – only 128 (19.5 percent) are also OHA
members. The Directory also lists eighteen international oral history associations.
Oral History 23
of AHA/OAH award winners, history. (For a compilation of AHA and OAH prize
winners, see Appendix 3, Prize-Winning Books Using Oral History Methodology since
2001.)
Within the academy, as discussed above, oral history has both generated new
knowledge and contributed to new ways of thinking about knowledge. It has been
essential to the reorientation of history away from the study of the elites to the social
history of the last generation and, more recently, to the development of various ethnic
studies. It has broad connections to theoretical developments in what is known as
cultural studies, that is the recognition of the deeply situated, “textual” dimension of
knowledge. It is exemplary in its interdisciplinarity, and shows promise for enriching
other disciplines, perhaps even challenging notions of disciplinarity itself. Oral history
also enjoys considerable acceptance within the academy: among the academically
affiliated respondents to OHA’s electronic surveys, 65.5 percent stated that within their
institutions, oral history is regarded about the same or better than other research methods;
76.8 percent that it is regarded about the same or better than other sources.
Oral history is also widely used as a pedagogical tool within the academy, a
means of making history literally “come alive” for students, of helping them make the
connection between the narrative of history and lived experience. Among postsecondary
faculty respondents to OHA’s surveys, 83 percent use oral history in teaching. A random
sample of courses that include oral history, identified using the Syllabus Finder function
at the Center for History and New Media website, suggests its diverse appeal; to cite only
a few: “Baseball and Writing,” offered in an English department; “Journalism of the
South since 1945,” in a journalism department; “Hawaii’s Female Heritage,” in a
Oral History 24
women’s studies program; “Portuguese in the Americas,” in an anthropology/sociology
program; and “Work, Workers, and Trade Unions in Advanced Capitalism,” in a
department of politics. A closer examination of the Syllabus Finder course sample tells
us something about how oral history is used in the classroom: most commonly,
conducting and analyzing an oral history interview is one of several assignments in a
topical course (63 percent); reading a work of oral history is also sometimes included as
an assignment in such courses (23 percent). Far fewer courses focus primarily on oral
history (11 percent), generally in conjunction with a strong topical focus (e.g. “Oral
History in the Brooklyn Communities”). Fewer still include oral history within the broad
frame of a methods course (9 percent).26 (For a list of universities with syllabi in the
sample, see Appendix 4, Universities in Random Sample of Oral History Syllabi.)
Responses to OHA’s surveys paint a somewhat different picture of oral history’s
place in the postsecondary classroom – not surprising, given the universe of respondents:
just over one-third (34.2 percent) of academically affiliated respondents report that oral
history courses are taught occasionally at their institutions; one fourth (25.6 percent) that
they are taught regularly. Almost one half (45.3 percent) report that oral history is
included in a research methods course; just under one third (30.8 percent), in a content
course; and just under one fifth (17.9 percent), in a historiography course. The Syllabus
Finder sample is probably more representative of the role oral history plays in the college

26
Using the term “oral history,” a search of Syllabus Finder at the Center for History and New Media
website (http://chnm.gmu.edu/tools/syllabi) resulted in approximately 16,600 hits. Every tenth syllabus
among the first 360 hits was noted, creating a list of thirty-six course syllabi. (The order of syllabi changed
every time the site was opened; hence randomization was a bit skewed.) An effort was then made to
examine those thirty six syllabi for greater detail on how oral history was incorporated within the courses.
About 75 percent of the syllabi on the original list were relocated. For those that could not be relocated,
replacement syllabi that had promise for good detail were identified; to maintain a measure of
randomization, a replacement syllabus was selected from among those appearing near to where the original
– unrelocatable – syllabus had appeared on the list of 160,000 hits.
Oral History 25
and university curriculum nationwide. What’s surprising about the OHA survey
responses is the extent to which oral history is not represented in the curriculum in
respondents’ institutions. In fact, it is generally recognized that historically some of the
best oral history training has occurred during one or two week seminars, most notably the
annual summer institute conducted by Columbia’s Oral History Research Office and the
one-week training programs presented by peripatetic oral historian Charles Morrissey.
Institutionally, oral history is most closely allied with history departments and
libraries and/or archives. Some two thirds of the academically affiliated respondents to
OHA’s surveys indicated that within their institutions oral history is located within
history; just over one third, in the library/archives. Perhaps even more important, the
majority (69.5 percent) of all respondents think of oral history as located within the
discipline of history; and while we have no firm data, most are themselves likely
historians.27 Yet oral history also has a broad reach: echoing the sample of oral history
courses above, survey respondents, albeit a small number in each case, variously placed
oral history in African American studies, American studies, anthropology, archival
administration, community studies, communication, education, folklore, geography,
Native American studies, interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary studies, journalism,
linguistics, museum studies, performance studies, political science and public policy,
psychology, religion, social work, sociology, and social sciences, and women’s studies.
In addition, the Center for Oral History at the University of Connecticut has
identified some eighty-one academically based oral history projects, programs, centers,

27
The number increases to 81.5 percent if calculated on the basis of all who responded to this particular
question on the survey, not all survey respondents.
Oral History 26
and institutes.28 Just over half are single projects, focusing on a specific topic; a
substantial minority, however, are on-going, often longstanding programs that engage in
multiple projects and related programs. Based on information received from a third of
this latter group, it would appear that about half are located within history departments;
about half are independent entities, whose director, typically but not always a historian,
reports to a senior member of the administration. It is also this latter group that
especially gives oral history a public face within an institution; faculty affiliated with
these programs typically offer courses, workshops, and tutorials on oral history
throughout the institution; and more generally give visibility and credibility to oral
history. They also engage in considerable community service, providing workshops and
consultation to local groups interested in oral history and themselves engaging in
documentation projects that variously involve them with local people. This public
dimension of oral history is especially valued by college and university administrators
who recognize the importance of “community outreach.”
The above suggests that oral history enjoys a measure of both intellectual and
institutional acceptance within the academy, most typically within history departments.
Yet its situation is hardly unproblematic; the OHA has long been concerned about several
issues, a concern that has been mirrored in current survey responses and conversations
with colleagues. There is, first of all, the not inconsiderable minority of survey
respondents who stated that within their institutions oral history is less well regarded than
other research methods (34.5 percent) and other sources (23.2 percent). Concerns about
tenure and promotion are an anxious subtext here – and are grounded in concerns not

28
Thanks to Bruce Stave, director, and Michael Neagle, graduate assistant, at UConn’s Center for Oral
History, who compiled this information and have made it available.
Oral History 27
only about the devaluation of research based on interviews, but also about the status of
interviews as works of scholarship in their own right and of archival oral histories, those
created as primary sources for future research, as publications. In 2004, the OHA
established a Task Force on Oral History in the Academy to address these issues, but its
work came to naught when an initial survey failed to generate substantial response. A
renewed effort is in order. More than a decade ago, the American Historical Association
issued Redefining Historical Scholarship, which urged that the term “scholarship” be
given “a broader, more capacious meaning,” one that includes within its embrace not
only original research but also work that integrates, applies, or transforms knowledge.
While the report does not mention oral history explicitly, it does provide a useful
framework for considering the value of nontraditional forms of scholarly work – even as
a published book remain the primary requirement for securing tenure in most history
departments in the United States. Similarly, the American Association for History and
Computing has developed Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Media Activities in Tenure,
Review, and Promotion. Endorsed by the AHA, this document also provides a potential
model for establishing criteria for assessing unconventional scholarship.29
Then there is the issue of quality. While few would likely agree with the survey
respondent who asserted that “much of what is done under the rubric [of oral history] is
still crap,” concerns about the quality of interviews loom large. Oral historians know

29
American Historical Association, Redefining Historical Scholarship (December 1993), available at
http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/RedefiningScholarship.htm. The phrase “broader, more capacious
meaning is from Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate (Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990), p 16, quoted in Redefining Historical Scholarship.
On the book as a requirement for tenure, see “A Survey of Tenure Practices in History: Departments
Indicate Books Are Key and Success Rates for Tenure High,” AHA Perspectives (February 2004), available
at http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/Issues/2004/0401/0402new1.cfm. Guidelines for Evaluating
Digital Media Activities in Tenure, Review, and Promotion is available at
http://www.theaahc.org/tenure_guidelines.htm. OHA established a Task Force on Oral History in the
Academy to address such issues in 2004
Oral History 28
what many who rather casually plan to conduct interviews do not: that the apparent
simplicity of talking with another person masks a demanding, often difficult, time
consuming process. Although a reassuring 77 percent of survey respondents believed
their training in oral history has been adequate, their assessment of the training received
by their colleagues and students is much less encouraging: they report that among
graduate students and faculty at their institution who use oral history in their own
research, just over one third (35.8 percent) have taken an oral history course, seminar, or
workshop; just over one fifth (22.1 percent) have been mentored by faculty, are self-
taught, or have learned “on the job.” For the remainder, some version of “brief informal
training – it’s not enough” or “often none” seems to obtain. Repeatedly, respondents
expressed concern that “many people believe that they can do it [oral history] with little
or no training,” that it is “regarded as something anyone can do without preparation,” and
that there is a “lack of recognition that training/practice and ongoing reflection is
crucial.” In courses where an oral history interview is one of several assignments, the
extent of preparation seems to be “in class discussion” during one or two class periods;
syllabi reveal few methodological readings and little practice before conducting an
interview. Especially troublesome is the practice of well intentioned but ill prepared
students interviewing vulnerable people and/or on sensitive topics – postings on H-
Oralhist shortly after Hurricane Katrina demonstrated an unsettling naïveté in this regard.
While the OHA can hardly affect curriculum at individual institutions, it can
address this problem in several ways: It can, as suggested by several survey respondents,
consider the development of curriculum units, training modules, and the like and make
them accessible in a variety of digital media, including a well publicized website. In fact,
Oral History 29
several educational resources for oral history already exist on-line; the OHA could
provide a real service by developing a “best of the web” page on its own website and
communicating its availability to a wide audience of students and scholars. More
ambitiously, it could develop a series of seminars and workshops, perhaps in conjunction
with established oral history programs, to be presented at professional conferences other
than its own; or upon the invitation of an individual institution. It could also initiate,
develop, or sponsor several longer training programs, on the institute model. (For a
complete listing of survey respondents’ suggestions for the OHA, see Appendix 5,
Qualitative Results from Oral Historians’ Survey, Spring 2006.)
More general concerns cluster around the way scholars, both historians and those
in other disciplines, use oral history and understand the nature of evidence obtained from
interviews. In general, historians who use but don’t specialize in oral history seem to
adopt the “more history” approach, at worst using scattered interview quotes to enhance
their own authorial voice; at best finding in interviews evidence that opens up new lines
of inquiry, for example about what is being called “the long civil rights movement;” or
that gives a new interpretation to a conventional topic, for example, the long term impact
of war work on women’s lives. But few interrogate the source in a manner different from
any other. Likewise, scholars in fields ranging from journalism to education to political
science to the health sciences are routinely employing the methods of oral history, but
often in a rudimentary way: their interviews often lack the historical sensibility – the
time depth, the exploration of historical consciousness – that characterizes the best of oral
history; and they tend to take what interviewees say at face value, with little awareness of
the interpretive complexity of interviews Oral historians thus have much to offer our
Oral History 30
colleagues: about the relationship between the actual and the narrated past, between what
is said and how it is said. Yet theoretical work in oral history is often ignored: perhaps
because history, as a discipline, remains empirically based, with an underdeveloped
methodological self-consciousness; perhaps because on the face of it oral history seems
so unproblematically simple. (For a complete listing of survey respondents’ greatest
concerns regarding oral history, see Appendix 6, Qualitative Results from Oral
Historians’ Survey, Spring 2006.)
There are also important intra- and interdisciplinary discourses that address topics
of broad concern to oral history that have nonetheless occurred largely outside its frame.
Within history, studies of historical memory have become increasingly popular, indeed
enjoy a certain fashionable currency. Insofar as oral history interviews are intrinsically
artifacts of memory, they can be mined for evidence about the way – or ways - the past is
remembered. And insofar as oral historians have thought about the play between
memory and history, they can contribute to this broader historiography. But with few
exceptions--one thinks of Edward Linenthal’s work on the memorialization of the
Oklahoma City bombing, which draws fruitfully upon oral history, and of a symposium
in recent issue of the Oral History Review that focuses on history and memory in the
work of Alessandro Portelli--there has been little overlap. Paula Hamilton, who
participated in that Oral History Review symposium, accounts for what she refers to as
this “one way traffic”: “the assumption that oral history is a ‘method’ that needs to be
broadened by a wider theoretical context,” an assumption, she suggests, that has been all
Oral History 31
too often confirmed by what she refers to as “the fetishization of practice” among oral
historians.30
A similar situation obtains with work included within the rubric of cultural
studies. While the cultural studies approach to the deconstruction of texts has certainly
influenced oral historians’ thinking about interviews, cultural studies scholars rarely draw
upon oral history narratives as the basis of their work. Even more rarely do those within
cultural studies do fieldwork – often a decidedly untheoretical experience. There is a
certain irony here, insofar as oral history contributed in significant ways to the refocusing
of scholarship on precisely those marginalized groups and on the relations of power that
preoccupy cultural studies. And, if we can say that a “fetishization of practice” keeps
oral historians from a potentially fruitful relationship with memory studies, might we also
suggest that a “fetishization of theory” similarly keeps cultural studies from a relationship
with oral history, one that could potentially ground it in the discourses of everyday life.
It is naive to think that the OHA can on its own significantly alter traditional
paradigms and disciplinary conventions adopted by scholars who also draw upon or who
might fruitfully draw upon oral history. Likewise, it is not likely to shift their
professional identities toward becoming “oral historians.” It could, however, use
available forms of academic culture to promote more a sophisticated and widespread
attention to oral history, for example by awarding one or more fellowship in oral history
to individuals making creative use of interviews; or by creating fora on oral history in a
variety of scholarly settings that could lead scholars to interviews and suggest ways they

30
Edward Linenthal, The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001); “History and Memory in the Work of Alessandro Portelli: A Conversation among
Historians about The Order Has Been Carried Out: History, Memory, and Meaning of a NaziMassacre in
Rome, Oral History Review 32:1 (Winter/Spring 2005), pp. 1 – 33; Paul Hamilton, “The Oral Historian as
Memorist,” p. 18.
Oral History 32
might use them. The OHA’s current initiative to evaluate The Oral History Review with
the aim of developing it into a more substantial scholarly publication is also on point
here: a journal that conceives of oral history broadly, welcomes – and solicits -
submissions from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, and has the credibility to
attract good work could certainly open up oral history and ratchet up scholarly attention
to it. And thinking more boldly, one might imagine the OHA joining with other field-
based disciplines and practices to develop a high profile, intellectually sophisticated
initiative – national symposium, publication, etc. – that would create a sense of
excitement about work in these fields, press against disciplinary boundaries, and place
these fields more prominently on the contemporary scholarly map. An even more
ambitious project, one that would require both intellectual will and considerable
resources, would be the development of an oral history field within a graduate program in
history or a related discipline; or an interdisciplinary minor or certificate program in oral
history, such as those offered in women’s studies. Such a program, perhaps linked to an
extant oral history program, could develop a series of both methodological and
theoretical courses that prepare students to conduct interviews, manage projects, interpret
oral history materials, and develop a variety of “outcomes,” ranging from published
books to media productions to exhibits and walking tours. To date, no such training
exists in the United States, and developing it would require a clearheaded assessment of
need (in the job market) and interest (within academic institutions).31


31
The University of Sussex in the United Kingdom offers an MA in Life History Research: Oral hHistory
and Life History Documents. There is some talk of developing an interdisciplinary graduate program in
oral history at Columbia University.
Oral History 33
Another set of professional issues, linked to oral history’s archival intentions -
and hardly limited to academic institutions – are those related to the preservation and
access of extant interviews. Indeed this emerged as the single most pressing concern in
responses to the surveys OHA conducted for this Mellon project. While oral historians
remain concerned that many interviews are not placed in public archives,32 many are;
most formal oral history programs, for example, are significantly involved in collections
development. Yet thousands of interviews remain untranscribed, uncatalogued, even
without releases, making access difficult at best. The explosion of new technologies is
rendering these issues even more pressing and complicated: what recording media to use
for audio and video interviews? on what media to store electronically recorded
interviews? on what media to transfer interviews originally recorded on magnetic tape
that is now deteriorating? Electronic media also provide unprecedented opportunities for
widespread dissemination of interviews and there is an urgency to making both
transcripts and original recordings available on line. Here questions about searchability
arise: what media tools to use? what level of search terms is possible? advisable?
While the archival profession is addressing these matters quite consistently and
individual oral historians have become more or less conversant with them, OHA has itself
taken no initiative to define standards or best practices for the electronic recording,
preservation, and accessing of interviews, even in sifting through the plethora of available
information and providing useful compendia. Clearly there is a need to do so through its
publications, its website, and perhaps through a special task force. Equally there is a

32
Of those survey respondents who answered questions about archiving interviews, just over one-third
(34.8 percent) noted that interviews conducted by graduate students and faculty for research purposes are
not routinely archived; more than half (53.7 percent) that interviews conducted by students for a course
assignment are not (admittedly, interviews in this latter category may not be of sufficient value to merit
permanent preservation).
Oral History 34
continuing need for training in methods of digital recording and preservation as
historians, attracted to oral history for its historical importance, nonetheless need to
master new technologies.
While greater attention to these technical matters is in order, they are also directly
linked to problems of funding. Most oral history activity is funded either by individual
researchers or through special grants; even institutionally supported oral history programs
require external funding for most of their projects. For many individual researchers, the
primary impetus is to do the interviews; transcribing and other less compelling (and
perhaps less interesting) matters are put off until “later,” which often becomes “never.”
For institutions, funding is almost never available for transcribing alone (e.g. for
untranscribed interview collections obtained through gifts); and the labor intensive nature
of transcribing, indexing, editing, and making interviews accessible means that oral
history programs and projects typically have a large backlog of unprocessed interviews.
The possibilities opened up by new technologies also link oral history to broader
intellectual issues. Electronic media offer unprecedented opportunities for restoring the
voice, with all its untranscribable meanings, to oral history. They also can facilitate what
one historian has termed “authoring in sound,” using new media to create new forms of
knowledge altogether, not only new ways of presenting it.33 Yet, as with memory studies
and cultural studies, these possibilities remain underdeveloped: Oral history, grounded in
the discipline of history, is not well connected to the discourses of media studies, even as
those pushing the boundaries of new media are not much engaged with oral history. One
might imagine, for example, one of the OHA’s annual conferences organized entirely

33
Charles Hardy III and Alessandro Portelli, “I Can Almost See the Lights of Home ~
A Field Trip to Harlan County, Kentucky: An Essay in Sound,” The Journal of MultiMedia History 2
(1999), at http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol2no1/lights.html
Oral History 35
around the theme of oral history and new technologies, with workshops and sessions
ranging from the most practical (what kind of digital recorder should I buy?) to the most
theoretical (how do new media press against the boundaries of knowledge in ways
meaningful to oral history?); and perhaps a collection of papers from the conference
anthologized as a “state of the art” publication. Here, too, perhaps there is need for a
special initiative, in which those involved in a variety of ethnographic practices and those
involved with media studies think out loud together. The on-line version of the Oral
History Review, a member of the History Cooperative, could also position itself as a
vehicle for publishing new forms of oral/aural history.
The discussion of the current status of oral history in the academy must also
appropriately address two institutional issues: the academy’s failure to reward oral
history activity that falls within the category of public history or public scholarship; and
problems with local institutional review boards, as they misapply federal regulations
governing research on human subjects to oral history interviewing. Considering the
former first, oral history is a popular and useful tool for local or community based
projects, and many within the academy remain committed to such work. Yet, as the 2004
report of the American Historical Association’s Task Force on Public History has made
clear, such work is rarely reckoned adequately in academic assessments. The issue is
different from that addressed above, i.e. interviews themselves being considered as
contributions to knowledge. Rather, it is a matter of scholars getting appropriate
recognition for working with local communities either as educators providing expertise
and training; or, as is increasingly preferred, as collaborators engaging in serious
intellectual work, albeit in often unconventional forms. Such work combines the
Oral History 36
scholarly and civic roles of the university and its value is enjoying a certain support at the
policy level, with such as initiatives as the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s The
Humanities at Work and Imagining America projects and Imagine America’s Tenure
Team. It is also work that the AHA’s report on graduate education, The Education of
Historians for the 21st Century, firmly supports, arguing that doctoral training in history
should not only prepare students for a variety of careers, but also for their public
obligations as professional historians. Once again, however, there is little dialogue
currently either within OHA or between OHA and this broader discourse about faculty
rewards.34
Finally, there is the issue of federal regulations governing research on human
subjects as applied to oral history research. Increasingly throughout the 1990s and early
2000s, researchers affiliated with colleges and universities have been required to submit
protocols for oral history interviewing projects to their campus Institutional Review
Board (IRB) prior to conducting any interviews, because federal regulations include
“interaction” with human subjects as one of the research modes subject to review.
However, because the regulations define protection within a framework appropriate to
biomedical and behavioral research, constraints appropriate to these forms of research
have been inappropriately applied to oral history: interviewers have been asked to submit
detailed questionnaires in advance of any interview; to maintain narrator anonymity,
despite an interviewee’s willingness to be identified; and to destroy tapes and transcripts

34
American Historical Association, “Public History, Public Historians, and the American Historical
Association: Report of the Task Force on Public History,” at
http://www.historians.org/governance/tfph/TFPHreport.htm. On the Wilson Foundation’s initiatives, see
www.woodrow.org; for Imagining America’s Tenure Project, see http://www.ia.umich.edu/tenure-team-
prospectus.html. Thomas Bender, Philip M. Katz, Colin Palmer, and the Committee on Graduate Education
(AHA) (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004).
Oral History 37
after the research project is completed. Clearly these practices violate fundamental
principles of oral history.
Most troublesome, however, has been the concern expressed by some IRBs that
interviewers not ask any questions for which, in the language of 45 CFR 46, “any
disclosure of the human subjects' responses outside the research could reasonably place
the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability, or be damaging to the subjects' financial
standing, employability, or reputation” [46.101 (b) (2) (ii)]; or questions that some might
consider psychologically harmful. While the regulations themselves don’t prohibit this
sort of research, requiring only that efforts be made to “minimize” risk or harm, some
IRBs have interpreted them as constraining challenging or difficult lines of inquiry in an
interview. Historians thus have become increasingly concerned that IRB review of oral
history is having a chilling effect on legitimate inquiry and indeed impinging upon their
academic freedom.
Recognizing these concerns, in 1998 the AHA and the OHA initiated contact with
what was then the Office for Protection from Research Risks to raise questions about the
legitimacy of IRB review of oral history within the existing regulatory framework; or,
failing that, to secure agreement about a form of review that conformed to the ethical
principles of the field. After five years of discussion, in 2003 the Office of Human
Research Protections (OHRP) concurred with a policy statement developed by AHA and
OHA that “most oral history interviewing projects are not subject to…regulations for the
protection of human subjects…and can be excluded from institutional review board
oversight because they do not involve research as defined by HHS regulations.” The
basis for exclusion hinges on the regulatory definition of research as contributing to
Oral History 38
“generalizable knowledge.” To quote further from the policy statement: “While
historians reach for meaning that goes beyond the specific subject of their inquiry, unlike
researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences they do not reach for generalizable
principles of historical or social development, nor do they seek underlying principles or
laws of nature that have predictive value and can be applied to other circumstances for
the purpose of controlling outcomes.” The policy does not imply that oral history is not a
legitimate form of research, only that it is not the type of research the regulations were
designed to cover.35
Local IRBs, however, which enjoy considerable autonomy in interpreting the
Common Rule and are encouraged to support protections beyond those required by law,
have generally not accepted the policy of excluding oral history from review; and OHRP
itself, subsequent to its concurrence with the AHA/OHA policy statement and in response
to queries from local IRBs, issued contrary – and conflicting – guidance, identifying
some forms of oral history as, in fact, subject to review. Challenged by the AHA and
OHA on this guidance, OHRP reaffirmed the original policy excluding oral history from
review.36 In November 2005, the American Historical Association contacted OHRP,
outlining conflicting statements from that office, critiquing its misapprehension of the
methods of oral history, and seeking – again – a generalized exclusion of oral history
from IRB review. Subsequently, AHA representatives have met with OHRP, but results
have that meeting have been inconclusive at best: OHRP reports that it is developing new
written guidance on the regulatory definition of research; that the Secretary's Advisory
Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP), which advised OHRP, is

35
For the full text of the policy statement, go to http://www.theaha.org/PRESS/IRBLetter.pdf.
36
For OHRP’s reaffirmation of its original policy statement, go to
http://www.dickinson.edu/oha/org_irbupdate.html.
Oral History 39
exploring similar issues; and that both will solicit comments from the history community
as documents develop. But the regulatory apparatus moves very slowly and the matter of
IRB review of oral history remains unresolved and indeed quite muddled: IRBs
generally claim the authority to review interview protocols; OHRP maintains conflicting
points of view; oral historians are obliged to conform to regulatory oversight that, at best,
fits awkwardly with the work they do, at worst, constrains it; and professional societies’
concerns remain unheeded at the federal level.37 Here too perhaps a coordinated response
by field-based disciplines and practices is in order.

Conclusion
Oral history is a well established practice within the academy, enjoying wide
acceptance as an archival practice, research method, pedagogical tool, and means of
community service and public scholarship. Yet as a field it remains underdeveloped:
interviews are undertaken too casually by scholars and students, theoretical discussions
within oral history remain insulated from broader intellectual contexts, creative practice
remains unrewarded. In addition, new technologies are creating new challenges even as
they open up new opportunities, funding remains inadequate, and IRBs continue to

37
For a summary of the recent history and current state of affairs regarding IRB review of oral history, see
Robert Townsend and Meriam Belli, “Oral History and IRBs: Caution Urged as Rule Interpretations Vary
Widely,” AHA Perspectives Online, 42:9 (December 2004), at
http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2004/0412/0412new4.cfm; and Robert B. Townsend with
Carl Ashley, Mériam Belli, Richard E. Bond, and Elizabeth Fairhead. “Oral History and Review Boards:
Little Gain and More Pain,” Perspectives on line (February 2006), at
http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2006/0602/0602new1.cfm . A generalized critique of the
ever expansive embrace of IRBs is also developing; see, for example, Philip Hamburger, “The New
Censorship: Institutional Review Boards,” 2004 Supreme Court Review (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2005), 271-354; and The Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign,
“The Illinois White Paper: Improving the System for Protecting Human Subjects: Counteracting IRB
‘Mission Creep’” (November 2005), available at http://www.law.uiuc.edu/conferences/whitepaper/. This
latter document argues that “most journalism and oral history cannot be appropriately reviewed under the
Common Rule” (22).
Oral History 40
review oral history research inappropriately. Joining with colleagues in related fields to
develop a broad agenda for advancing our fields is a welcome step towards enhancing the
practice and extending the reach of oral history. But, a final cautionary word is also in
order: the OHA has limited capacity to take on complex, multiyear projects with its
current resources. Madelyn Campbell, OHA’s part-time executive secretary, is the
association’s sole employee; much of her time is taken up with planning for the
association’s annual meeting, fiscal management, and related administrative duties.
OHA Council members assume various responsibilities for association business, but
because they serve three-year terms, continuity is limited; and as with all volunteer
positions, accountability is limited. The association’s budget, while balanced, shows only
a modest surplus. Thus, any substantial new initiatives will require external funding to
implement, including funding for project management.





Oral History 41
Appendix 1

Quantitative Results from Oral Historians’ Survey, Spring 2006

Compiled Answers from All Surveys

Total number of returned questionnaires: 190

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 147
I conduct interviews for my research 148
I use interviews conducted by others 119
I work for an established oral history program 70
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level. 97
I use oral history in my teaching at the pre-collegiate level. 7

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more full academic courses 57
Segment or lecture/s in a historiography or topical course 43
One or more workshops 109
On-the-job training 123
Self taught 109

4. Are you familiar with the Oral History Association’s Evaluation Guidelines:
Principles and Standards for Oral History?
yes 168
no 21 (11.0 percent)

5. Do you believe your training has been adequate?
yes 145
no 43 (22.6 percent)

6. Do you think of oral history as located within the discipline of history?
yes 132
no. 30
If not, where?
“everywhere”; “in the hearts and soles [sic?] of every being”; anthropology (5); archival
administration (2); folklore (2); geography; Indigenous/Native American studies;
interdisciplinary (5); journalism; life story; linguistics; multidisciplinary (5); performance
studies and community studies; psychology (2); public policy; social science (2); social
work; sociology (5); transdisciplinary; women’s studies (3)

If you work in an academic institution, please answer questions 7-10. If you do not,
please skip to question 11.

Oral History 42
7. Where is oral history activity located within your institution? (check all that
apply)
History department? 74
Within a public history program (at least 18)
Other department? 11
If so, which?
“scattered at best”; African American studies; American studies (4); anthropology (10);
Appalachian studies (2); archeology; community studies (2); education (3); English;
environmental studies; ethnography (2); folklore (3); humanities and communication;
Indigenous studies; interdepartmental; justice studies; labor studies; liberal education;
library and information science; museum studies; social science (2); performing arts;
physical therapy (2); political science (2); religion; sociology (4); teaching; women’s
studies (3)

Library or archives? 69
Independent institute? 13

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 66
On occasion 54
Regularly 44
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 70
Historiography courses 28
Research methods courses 69
Content courses 48
Oral history workshops given
Regularly 44
On occasion 54
Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 95
What training do they receive?
Oral history course 21
Seminars and workshops 13
Self-taught 6
None 5
Individual faculty mentoring 8
On the job 7
“Various” 3
“Often none.”
“Brief informal training. It’s not enough.”
In-class
Intensive preparation
None
N.B. These numbers are suggestive, not definitive.
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 45
No 24
Oral History 43

Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 61
What training do they receive?
Classes, seminars, and workshops, 48
Informal 10
Self-taught 2
individual training
faculty
limited training (2)
3 presentations
“basic introductory lecture”
one or two class sessions (2)
Training: in-class
“haphazardly”
“Preparation by me”
Textbook
Readings and reviewing materials in class
N.B. These numbers are suggestive, not definitive.
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 31
No 36

The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 66

9. Within your institution, compared to other research methods, is oral history:
less well regarded 41
better regarded 3
regarded about the same. 75

10. Within your institution, compared to other sources, is oral history:
less well regarded 22
better regarded 4
regarded about the same. 69

Responses from Oral History Association members who are faculty members at an
academic institution
N=69

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 62
I conduct interviews for my research 62
I use interviews conducted by others 51
I work for an established oral history program 24
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level. 60

3. What training have you received in oral history?
Oral History 44
One or more full academic courses 18
Segment or lecture/s in a historiography or topical course 17
One or more workshops 43
On-the-job training 45
Self taught 48

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines?
Yes 65
No 4

Training adequate?
Yes 52
No 13

OH in the discipline of history?
Yes 48
No 10
“everywhere,” transdisciplinary, social work, multidisciplinary (4); Indigenous/Native
American studies; interdisciplinary

Located in history department 48
Other 11
Museum studies, liberal education, teaching, performing arts, anthropology (8), political
science (2), religion, community studies (2), folklore (3), “scattered at best,”
interdepartmental, social science (2), women’s studies (2), American studies (2),
education (3), ethnography (2), archeology, sociology (3), African American studies,
physical therapy, justice studies, Appalachian studies; Indigenous studies; humanities and
communication

Library/archives 25
Independent institute, 8
Other 7

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 38
On occasion 25
Regularly 20
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 28
Historiography courses 15
Research methods courses 39
Content courses 28
Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 49
What training do they receive?
Seminars and workshops 10
Self-taught 3
None 5
Oral History 45
Oral history course 13
Individual faculty mentoring 8
On the job 7
“Various”

Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 27
No 14

Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 45
What training do they receive?
Classes, seminars, and workshops, 46
Informal 10
Self-taught 2

Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 19
No 24

The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 34

Value as method
Less 23
Better 1
Same 39

Value as source
Less 19
Better 3
Same 37

Responses from Oral History Association members who are students at an academic
institution
N=9 [8 graduate, 1 undergraduate]

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 9
I conduct interviews for my research 8
I use interviews conducted by others 3
I work for an established oral history program 2
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level 1
I use oral history in my teaching at the pre-collegiate level 2

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more formal academic courses 5
Segment in course 3
Oral History 46
One or more workshops 5
On-the-job training 4
Self taught 3

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines
Yes 7
No 2

Training adequate?
Yes 5
No 2

Within discipline of history?
Yes 7
No 2
“Across a range—history, anthropology, sociology, psychology”; Performance studies
and community studies; interdisciplinary

Location within institution
History 4
Community/performance studies, folklore
Library/archives 2

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 2
On occasion 2
Regularly 1
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 3
Historiography courses 1
Research methods courses 4
Content courses 1
Workshops:
Regular 1
On occasion 1

Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 3
What training do they receive?
Self-taught, classes

Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 1
The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 2

Value as method
Less 4
Better 0
Same 1
Oral History 47
Value as source
Less 3
Better 0
Same 3

Responses from Oral History Association members who are staff or administration
members at an academic institution
N = 19

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)

I use oral history in my own research 9
I conduct interviews for my research 9
I use interviews conducted by others 8
I work for an established oral history program 14
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level 4

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more formal academic courses 9
Segment of course 2
One or more workshops 13
On-the-job training 13
Self taught 4

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines
Yes 18
No 1

Training adequate
Yes 16
No 7

Within discipline of history?
Yes 12
No 3
Sociology, geography, linguistics, women’s studies, interdisciplinary (2)

Location within institution
History 7
Library/archives 13
Independent institute 3
Other: anthropology, physical therapy, American studies (2), women’s studies, library
and information science,

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 5
Oral History 48
On occasion 5
Regularly 7
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 9
Historiography courses 3
Research methods courses 7
Content courses 7

Workshops
Regular 2
On occasion 3

Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 14
What training do they receive?
Mostly self-taught 2
Workshops 2
Varies 2
“Often none.”
“Brief informal training. It’s not enough.”

Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 7
No 7

Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 8
What training do they receive?
Workshops and individual training
Workshop
Faculty
Limited training (2)
3 presentations
“Basic introductory lecture”
One or two class sessions (2)

Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 6
No 6

The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 12

Value as method
Less 2
Better 0
Same 12

Value as source
Less 5
Oral History 49
Better 0
Same 9

Responses from Oral History Association members who are employed at a museum,
library, or other nonacademic cultural organization
N= 27

What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 15
I conduct interviews for my research 15
I use interviews conducted by others 14
I work for an established oral history program 18
I use oral history in my teaching at the pre-collegiate level 1

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more formal academic courses 7
Segment 7
One or more workshops 22
On-the-job training 21
Self taught 15

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines
Yes 24
No 3

Training adequate?
Yes 24
No 6

Located within discipline of history?
Yes 20
No 6
Anthropology (3), women’s studies, social science, folklore, sociology, public
policy

OH work in institution:
OH as part of various courses 1
Research methods courses 1
Workshops given on occasion 1

Students in various courses
Training: none
Archived: irregularly

Ongoing OH program 3

Oral History 50
Responses from Oral History Association members who are freelancers
N =23

Free-lancer
Interviewer 19
Transcriber 9
Editor 15
Project Manager 13

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 22
I conduct interviews for my research 23
I use interviews conducted by others 14
I work for an established oral history program 5
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level. 6
I use oral history in my teaching at the pre-collegiate level. 4

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more full academic courses 6
Segment or lecture/s in a historiography or topical course 4
One or more workshops 10
On-the-job training 17
Self taught 14

4. Are you familiar with the Oral History Association’s Evaluation Guidelines:
Principles and Standards for Oral History?
yes 17
no 4

5. Do you believe your training has been adequate?
yes 16
no 3

6. Do you think of oral history as located within the discipline of history?
yes 18
no. 3
If not, where?
Life story, journalism, social science; psychology, sociology; “in the hearts and soles
[sic?] of every being”

Oral History 51
Responses from employees of corporations who are members of the Oral History
Association
N = 2

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 1
I conduct interviews for my research 1
I use interviews conducted by others 1
I work for an established oral history program 1
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level.
I use oral history in my teaching at the pre-collegiate level.

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more full academic courses 1
Segment or lecture/s in a historiography or topical course
One or more workshops
On-the-job training 1
Self taught 1

4. Are you familiar with the Oral History Association’s Evaluation Guidelines:
Principles and Standards for Oral History?
yes 2
no

5. Do you believe your training has been adequate?
yes 2
no

6. Do you think of oral history as located within the discipline of history?
yes 1
no. If not, where? __sometimes history if the protocols pertain to a significant historical
event, otherwise anthropology or other ethnologically-based studies or women’s
studies…

Responses from staff or administration members at an academic institution who are
NOT members of the Oral History Association
N = 4

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)

I use oral history in my own research 2
I conduct interviews for my research 2
I use interviews conducted by others 1
I work for an established oral history program 2
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level

Oral History 52
3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more formal academic courses 1
One or more workshops 3
On-the-job training 3
Self taught 3

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines?
Yes 4
No 0

Training adequate
Yes 1
No 3

Located within discipline of history?
Yes 2
No 1
Interdisciplinary

Location within institution
History department 0
Library or archive 2

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 1
On occasion 1
Regularly 1
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses
Historiography courses 1
Research methods courses 1
Content courses
Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 3
Training: Curriculum
“Varies”
Archived:
Yes 1
No 2
Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 2
Training: in-class; “haphazardly”
Archived: no
The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 3
Value as method
Less 2
Better 0
Same 2

Oral History 53
Value as source
Less 2
Better 1
Same 1

Responses from faculty members at an academic institution who are NOT members
of the Oral History Association
N = 8

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)

I use oral history in my own research 8
I conduct interviews for my research 7
I use interviews conducted by others 6
I work for an established oral history program 1
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level 4

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more formal academic courses 1
One or more workshops 4
On-the-job training 5
Self taught 6

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines
Yes 5
No 2

Training adequate?
Yes 6
No 1

Located within the discipline of history
Yes 4
No 2
Multidisciplinary

Location within institution
History 5
Library/archives 4
Independent institute 1

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 4
On occasion 4
Regularly 1
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses
Oral History 54
Historiography courses 1
Research methods courses 1
Content courses 2
Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 5
What training do they receive?
In-class
Intensive preparation
None
Courses or workshops
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 2
No 1
Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 4
What training do they receive?
“Preparation by me”
Textbook
Readings and reviewing materials in class
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 1
The institution supports an ongoing oral history program

Value as method
Less 2
Better 0
Same 5

Value as source
Less 2
Better 0
Same 4

Responses from students at an academic institution who are NOT members of the
Oral History Association
N = 11

Use OH in own research 8
Conduct interviews 10
Use interviews conducted by others 9
Work for established OH program 1
Use OH in teaching 6

Training
One or more courses 5
Segment of course 2
Workshop 4
On-the-job training 6
Oral History 55
Self-taught 6

Familiar with Evaluation Guidelines
Yes 8
No 3

Training adequate
Yes 7
No 4

Located within discipline of history?
Yes 2
Other 2
Archival administration (2)

Location within institution
History 2
Library/archive 2

Value as research method
Less valuable 3
Better 2
Same 3

Value as source
Less valuable 2
Better 0
Same 4

Archive interviews?
Yes 7
No 0

Get release forms?
Yes 7
No 0

What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 3
On occasion 1
Regularly 2
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 2
Historiography courses 1
Research methods courses 1
Content courses

Oral History 56
Workshops 1

Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 3

Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses 1

The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 1

Responses from public historians who may or may not be members of the Oral
History Association
N = 20

Academic Institution 20

Faculty member:19
Staff/administration:1

2. What is your involvement with oral history? (check all that apply)
I use oral history in my own research 11
I conduct interviews for my research 12
I use interviews conducted by others 12
I work for an established oral history program 2
I use oral history in my teaching at the college/university level. 16
I use oral history in my teaching at the precollegiate level.

3. What training have you received in oral history?
One or more full academic courses 4
Segment or lecture/s in a historiography or topical course 8
One or more workshops 5
On-the-job training 8
Self taught 9

4. Are you familiar with the Oral History Association's Evaluation Guidelines: Principles
and Standards for Oral History?
Yes 18
No 2

5. Do you believe your training has been adequate?
Yes 16
No 4

6. Do you think of oral history as located within the discipline of history?
Yes 18
No. 1
If not, where?
Folklore, sociology
Oral History 57
7. Where is oral history activity located within your institution?
History department? 19
Within a public history program 18
Other department? If so, which?
Labor studies, Appalachian studies, English, sociology, anthropology,
environmental studies
Library or archives? 10
Independent institute? 1
Other? 2

8. What kind of oral history work goes on at your institution? (check all that apply)
Courses in oral history are taught 13
On occasion 8
Regularly 6
Oral history is taught as a part of various courses 14
Historiography courses 3
Research methods courses 8
Content courses 5
Oral history workshops given
Regularly 1
On occasion 7_
Graduate students and faculty members use oral history in their own research 9
What training do they receive?
Course 7
Workshops
Varies
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 9
No 2
Students are assigned oral history interviews in various courses
What training do they receive?
Courses, workshops,
Are their interviews routinely archived?
Yes 6
No 5
The institution supports an ongoing oral history program 7

9. Within your institution, compared to other research methods, is oral history:
less well regarded 5
better regarded 0
regarded about the same. 13

10. Within your institution, compared to other sources, is oral history:
less well regarded 8
better regarded 0
regarded about the same. 11

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