Studies in Oral History

School of Humanities
Course Title
Taught MA in history
Module Coordinator
Module Title
Lecture times
Teaching Format
Brief outline of
Caitriona Clear
Studies in Oral History HI161
To be arranged
One two-hour seminar per week for 12 weeks.
This course explores the potential of living people as historical
sources. It encompasses an examination of the history of oral history,
an exploration of the differences between oral tradition and oral history,
and what one can contribute to the other, the reliability and
representativeness of oral history, the ethics of this mode of historical
research, the ‘I’ of autobiography, the difference between written and
oral personal testimony. Instruction will be given on practicalities
like transcription, taping, question order and so on.
documentaries using oral history will be evaluated. There will be at
least one visiting lecturer with experience in the field. Students will be
encouraged to ‘learn by doing’, to carry out their interviews (see
below) at some stage during the semester so that they can report back
on them before the end of teaching.
Learning Outcomes
Evaluating oral history makes students engage at a very complex level
with the nature of historical evidence in general; by applying stringent
and rigorous rules to the evaluation of oral evidence they decide what is
reliable in historical evidence, and what is representative. At the
conclusion of the course, students should have a deeper understanding
of the complexity of historical evidence in general, they should be
familiar with all the authorities on oral history, theoretical and
practical, they should be able to conduct an oral history interview
ethically and thoroughly, and they should have a new appreciation of
the importance of human memory in the making of historical fact.
Assessment Types
and Deadlines
Students must carry out an interview with an older person, on a theme
agreed by the class, must tape and transcribe this interview and then
write a 3,000-4,000 word essay evaluating this interview as a historical
Required Text
R.Perks and A.Thomson (eds) The Oral History Reader SecondEdition
(Routledge 2006). Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past (OUP 1976
and several editions since.
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