Oral history

From ArticleWorld

The term Oral History refers to the passing on of accounts through generations by simple word of mouth. The reliability of this form of documenting accounts is often called in to question by historians due to lack of physical evidence.


Oral Histories Validation

Some historians do believe that oral based memories can provide a partially accurate account of events from the past. Through the passing of time and the recounting of memories, accounts are susceptible to change, but at the core of them no matter how embellished remains a basic fundamental truth. These conclusions have been made after historians researched the paths of these accounts through literate societies. However it is widely accepted that stories which have undergone generation after generation of additional storytelling and embellishment can become so laden with additional superfluous material that the truth can no longer be determined.

Surviving Accounts

Oral history predates a literate society, which meant that the only way a society could keep alive stories, poems and accounts was by passing it on verbally to their peers. By passing it on over generations tales were able to survive over many centuries. Once humanity passed into a literate epoch, scribes were finally able to make a physical ink copy of the accounts to ensure survival. A famous example of this was Homers Iliad; the monolithic poem survived centuries of oral interpretations before finally being recorded in writing by Pisistratos. Despite being first recited in around the 8th century B.C, the Iliad held interest for historians and archaeologists in the relatively recent past. In 1870 archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered ruins described in Homers poem, which goes some way to validating the validating both the accuracy of the poem and oral history.

The Bible

Homers account of the Trojan War is just a single example of oral history that has survived the passage of time, there is however a far more obvious example of oral history in the modern world. The bibles Old Testament is a book forged out of the stories of many authors spanning centuries of folklore and recounting. Similarly the New Testament was a collection of religious stories, which took on many different authors who invariably had varying views and accounts of events, which would later become entwined in the tales. These stories about ethics, morality and religion were passed on and preached from for many centuries before finally becoming a written document and what we now know as the Bible.

Modern Interpretations

With the creation of audio recording technology, anthropologists have been able to record eyewitness accounts of significant events in history, to be preserved and studied for years to come. From the late 19th Century historians, academics and anthropologists have collated accounts from major events like the abolishment of slavery and the American civil war. Many of these accounts were stored on acetate disks by order of the United States Library of Congress, to store important first hand accounts of American history. This modern form of Oral history allows the account to be told by actual eyewitnesses and to be studied or educate new generations. Initially recordings were done on phonographic recorders, during this period anthropologists began to collect many accounts but the predominant source was Native American Indian folklore. Now moving on to an age where history may be recorded on to tape or even stored digitally, oral history can provide a useful method to document recent events to the generations that follow, thus continuing oral traditions that stretch back millennia.