Reading Log #2

The readings on Oral History all come from vastly different perspectives on the subject. On the one hand, The Oral History Manual is intensely practical. The pieces by Frisch, Fink and Tucker are all more personal narratives of experience with Oral History and particular challenges they face. The overarching similarity in all of these pieces is how critical they are of the practice of Oral History, even when purportedly supporting the practice. The Oral History Manual, while useful in many regards, is limiting. This manual assumes that all legitimate oral history is part of a formalized public oral history project. While these are fairly common, many academics do personal oral history interviews for inclusion in their books and articles and this manual is limited in a way that prevents that. Additionally, many prominent oral historians, such as Studs Terkel, would not be considered Oral Historians by these standards. While rules and guidelines can be and are useful, in some ways they can be limiting and that is important to acknowledge.

In the introduction to A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History Michael Frisch discusses the relationship between oral history and social history and oral history and interdisciplinary studies. Frisch says oral history as “a way for a new kind of history from the bottom up and from the outside in to challenge the established organization of knowledge and power and the politics that rested on it” (xviii). Oral History is often used to share the stories of people who may not be literate or who do not leave the kind of records that more educated people leave. While Frisch did not fully engage with this concept, often historians preference for written documents manifests itself as a type of classism and oral history can remedy that.

Frisch first became involved with Oral History in a radical American Studies department. While I was not aware of the relationship between interdisciplinary studies and oral history, it is not surprising. Interviewing methods in other disciplines are treated with much more certainty, so this relationship is new to me but unsurprising.

In “When Community Comes Home to Roost: The Southern Milltown as Lost Cause” Leon Fink raises the question of heritage versus history. While Fink came into his oral history project as positive, he asserted that this type of history opens up the discussion of heritage and positive remembrances of the past (Fink 119). While this is certainly a problem for oral history, I don’t think it makes oral history less

worthwhile. Being aware of the tendency towards heritage can help one critically analyze oral history interviews, but it does not invalidate it.

Sherrie Tuckers article “When Subjects Don’t Come Out” brings up many interesting issues that were not raised in the other articles. Tucker focuses on sexuality in all women WWII era bands, but her narrative brings up the complexity in oral history as a whole. Tucker’s article implicitly addresses the idea of difficult history and focusing on controversial subjects in oral history interviews. More so, it analyzes the problem of someone openly evading truths. Tucker’s personal narrative contends with more controversial elements of oral history then the others do.

My personal experience with oral history differs greatly from all of these. I have primarily used oral history to tell the stories of people who have not left traditional records. While I have followed many of the parameters suggested in the manual, most of my projects were more spontaneous and for my own personal research. I was interviewing formerly incarcerated people, so controversial topics were common but i did not have an experience similar to either Tucker or Frisch. This speaks to the variety of experiences and approaches to oral history methodology.

worthwhile. Being aware of the tendency towards heritage can help one critically analyze oral history interviews, but it does not invalidate it.