The article “The Voice of the Past” by Paul Thompson discusses the impact that oral history could have on the purpose and effect of History. As a history major, I spend a lot of time reading. Historians’ accounts of what happened in the past as well as textbook explanations and analytical articles are primarily the way we learn about the past. On occasion, a professor will give us a primary document to read but we typically learn form second hand accounts. The constant pushing of history from the second hand voice makes history feel less personal and less relatable. Overall, history becomes less interesting.
Students in my high school classes constantly wondered why we needed to learn about the past. It was so long ago and came from such foreign contexts that it seemed almost fictional. No one could understand why exactly it was so essential to our education. Paul Thompson discusses the importance of learning history in his article. The issue isn’t in the content that we are learning but in the way that we learn it.
Oral history makes the content come alive. Hearing first hand accounts from people you know or from recordings from the past liven up the information by portraying it as more relatable and more real. Historians can only breathe so much life into something that they’re writing or speaking about and didn’t actually experience themselves. Hearing personal histories from firsthand participants is a much more effective way to teach about the past and to help people in understanding the effects and relevance of the information on today’s time.
Reading this article, I wondered how Oral history is going to become more involved as time goes on and how the digital age will impact how history is taught. I can only imagine that Oral history will become more incorporated in history education as technology progresses. For example, when we talk about the revolutionary war in school, we read stories and occasionally primary documents. Those documents are hard for students to decipher because of the nature of the language used that was relevant in that time. We can even see reenactments, but those don’t bear the same weight. Thanks to technology, students who learn about 9/11 in 50 years will be able to see documentaries made while the attack happened and the actual people who were there and their views. They will have audio and visual oral histories at their disposal. When students learn about the 2016 election, they’ll be able to read the candidate’s tweets and watch their debates and then read Facebook posts from common people about the debates to get a feel of what public opinion was. The events happening in the digital age will one day be in history textbooks and they will be taught in much more lively and interactive ways. Technology and the advancement of such will do wonderful things for oral history and history education.
How pre-digital age history can be taught
versus how events in the digital age can one day be taught