History by Mouth

mainSince the dawn of time, stories have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. In fact, everything I know about my family history comes from some form of oral history; there is not much physical documentation of a family of immigrants (and if there is any, it’s in Spanish).

More recently, we as a society have started to lean more towards physical documentations of larger historical events. While these documents (for the most part) portray history accurately, they really eliminate the room for discussion and cooperation that oral history provides. It is easy to read a document or a textbook for class and just memorize some dates, but does that make any of these historical events significant? How can something plainly written on paper from so long ago take enough life of its own to actually signify something?

The purpose of studying history, in my opinion, is to understand the mistakes of the past and the successes, and to be aware of warning signs of these mistakes potentially reoccurring. When one just simply reads something historical out of a textbook, I feel that this provides a much less meaningful experience. It is the cooperation of oral history that really allows all involved parties to learn. In a written document, the author will never hear from their audience. They will never obtain the opinions of others, partake in a civil discourse, or really have any form of straying from their own, written opinion. As a result, the reader has a very similar experience; a one-sided conversation with little substance.

While I am not arguing to abolish history textbooks or the study of the written word, as this is something very important, I am arguing that oral history be incorporated in the study of written history. Written history provides accuracy, but not much beyond that. I feel that the best way to learn and understand our past is in a combination of documentation and oral discussion.

Much like blogging, oral history is based off cooperation. The blogger, like the speaker, presents what they know and feel in a pure way and the viewers, like the listeners, are able to provide immediate feedback. This is something you really cannot obtain with a mere textbook.

'Do you think history repeats itself?'  Other man: 'Just like I told you yesterday - no!'
‘Do you think history repeats itself?’ Other man: ‘Just like I told you yesterday – no’

Overall, I believe that the best way to understand history is to study the physical material in tangent to a verbal discourse. We still need textbooks for the facts, but we also need oral history for the comprehension and application. Oral history really brings the written word to life in a way that a textbook cannot. I feel like the combination of oral history and documented history is a lot like that of blogging and reading news articles. Either can stand alone, but the two are most powerful when standing together.

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History by Mouth

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