Oral History: Preserving Voices

by Samantha Hoffman

Oral history is a genre I was only aware of in a peripheral way, not one I ever studied or considered writing. In the tradition of Studs Terkel, oral history is a way of preserving memories and experiences of individuals and groups in their own voices. Where written history is based on research and evidence, oral history is based on memory and perspective; it has texture and nuance that written history does not have.

In this interview, Alessandro Portelli (left), considered one of the most influential oral historians of the last quarter century, explains the vital part the oral historian plays in the preservation of these memories. 

What's intriguing to me about this genre, possibly because we're recently out of a time of isolation, is how this is the perfect genre for us to connect with and listen to each other. As writers it’s a tool we can use to pass on information that would otherwise fade away.

Maybe you're between projects; maybe you've finished your novel and you're waiting for your editor's comments. This might be a good time to think about the people who've been important in your life; teachers, mentors, parents, grandparents. Consider writing oral histories while these people are still with you. I often think about how much I don't know about my parents and wonder why I didn't think to ask while they were still here. Maybe you still have the opportunity.

If you'd like to learn more about oral history we'll be presenting a panel discussion At Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference on March 25-26, 2023, with three respected oral historians: Mark Larson, Rachna Prasad and Shawn Shiflett. Read Shawn's latest oral history in NewCity Magazine.

Access the Conference Schedule Here


Share Facebook   Share on Twitter

Back to Write City Blog