What is Oral History?

For centuries, the communication of historical information was exclusively oral. With the advent of writing, however, people came to rely almost entirely on written documents for information about the past, but much that was communicated orally was lost. The advent of sound recording technology has once more enabled students of the past to collect and use information communicated by speech.

Oral history, therefore, refers to recorded interviews with individuals about the past, or first-person reminiscences. The primary form of the oral history document is the recorded human voice. This document, in turn, may be applied as informational source material or directly in sound or transcribed form.

Among those who create and use oral history are professional historians, family and local historians, journalists, broadcasters, archivists, educators, folklorists and sociologists. The Canadian Oral History Association recognizes these practitioners and other kinds of users and is open to those in allied fields who use sound recordings as cultural records.