Background / Oral History Theory and Methodology /

Oral History Theory and Methodology

The edited narratives and accompanying documents model the process of doing and using oral histories. In addition to the edited narratives, we have included two sample oral history transcripts, one from each historical period: The interview transcript of Marjorie Brockman, a participant in the World War II Farm Labor Project, and the transcript of Bill Taylor, a student reporter with the Vanguard at the time it was shut down. These transcripts are nearly verbatim accounts of the recorded interviews and thus provide readers with the opportunity to read a complete interview and to analyze the interview method. The transcripts illustrate the “messy” nature of oral history testimonies. The process of telling a life-history is often not a linear one. The narrators’ and interviewers’ verbal stumbling, grammatical inaccuracies, interruptions, and tangents are part of the historical record. But it is this “messiness,” integrated with the content and conversation that gives readers an accurate representation of the oral history document. Examined in tandem with the edited excerpts, the interview transcripts also enable readers to study how oral history narratives are used to tell a historical story.

We have also included sample audio excerpts of nearly every interviewee. Through the audio, listeners gain richer and deeper images of the storytellers. The audio excerpts heard in conjunction with the transcribed excerpts demonstrate that certain qualities and emotions can only be conveyed aurally. Finally, the fact that the written excerpt is not always identical to the accompanying audio segment reveals yet another aspect of the oral historian’s craft.