Studies in Oral History


School of Humanities


Course Title


Taught MA in history

Caitriona Clear Module Coordinator

Module Title

Lecture times

Teaching Format

Brief outline of content

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. Two 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 source.

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.