Activity Types: Oral Histories

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What are Oral Histories?
The Oral History Home Page (http://www.ohs.org.uk/ ) defines an oral history as records of "the living memories and feelings of all kinds of people, many otherwise hidden from history" that create "a more vivid picture of our past." Oral histories take the stories and recollections of those who have lived through an event, historical time, or unique circumstance and record that story to perserve the individual perspectives of those events.

In the classroom, students must seek out people who have actually lived through events of interest, interview those people and record the interviews as part of a story that the student later writes. The unique hallmark of the oral history is that the voice being recorded is kept in the final production as much as possible. Students bring the recorded sound into the movie editor or PowerPoint presentation to accent and explain the digital images. In this way, students can study social history topics through the interviews and recollections of the individuals who lived through the events. Students can develop their own research questions that make the study of history relevant to their community, their personal relationships, and develop new perspectives on historical events outside textbooks. The study of history using oral histories introduces students to the concepts of "primary sources" as a means of making meaning of historical events. In addition, the use of interviewing and questioning skills, as well as the construction of a "retelling" of the stories support the acquisition of writing skills across the curriculum.

Advantages for use in the classroom:

  • Interdisciplinary activity as it incorporates history, language arts, and digital storytelling
  • The act of recording stories builds a bond between the storyteller and the recorder

Disadvantages for use in the classroom:

  • Portable equipment or handheld computer that records is necessary
  • Students must locate these storytellers, then record, and then produce the photo essay making the time for completion of project lengthy

Check out the following web sites for examples of lessons using oral histories:

The Learning Page: Using Oral History

Oral History Online! Resources: Making Sense of Oral Histories

Best of History: Oral History (Great links to oral history collections, lesson plans, etc.)

Scholastic Writing Workshop: Immigration (Online tool to help students publish a print version of an oral history interview.)

Copyright 2002-2011 Handy4Class Project


Candace Figg, PhD
Brock University
Faculty of Education, Teacher Education Department
500 Glenridge, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1
(905.688.5550, x5347)


Jenny Burson, EdD
University of Texas at Austin (retired)
Education Department, Curriculum and Instruction
jburson@mail.utexas.edu