Oral history or Interview

Much like reminiscences, the recording of oral history and interviews usually means the witness recognizes that others are interested in the topic they are speaking about. Those offering their insights might be speaking from the authoritative position of witness, or attempting to claim knowledge in order to alter the historical record. It goes without saying that when analyzing interviews or oral history, the historian must employ every available technique of historical criticism, analyzing not only what informants said, but how their remarks were transcribed. The subjects who were interviewed may have lied. They may have hidden details they found embarrassing or shameful. They may have exaggerated, or simply forgotten, details about the events or traditions they describe.

We also need to consider the relationship between the witness and the interviewer. As you might discover in some of the testimony reproduced here, some of the interviewees spoke quite candidly regarding their feelings towards other interviewers and researchers.

As well, interviewers have different styles of recording information. Some attempt to record every word uttered, while others might simply summarize the general sense of what was discussed. In such cases, we have to apply our critical skills to interpreting how the interviewers’ own thinking might shape what they choose to write down – and what they choose to leave out of the record.