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History is all around us. We only have to ask our own families and communities. They can tell us enough stories to fill a library of books. This kind of history is called ORAL HISTORY.
Documents and books often concentrate on famous people and big events. But many people’s experiences and voices have been hidden from history. Oral history fills in the gaps and gives us history which includes everyone.
With digital technology, anyone can preserve oral histories and share them with others. It is a wonderful way of developing digital and interviewing skills while learning about history. It can build the confidence of young people and respect between generations.
Oral history teaches skills for life
How to listen as well as speak
To understand the need for preparation.
How to react to the unexpected.
A sense of the past – how things were similar as well as different.
An understanding of chronology – one thing following another…
…and sometimes causing another.
An ability to structure a narrative (beginning, middle and end)
To give full attention to another person – essential for many relationships as well as oral history!
How to be digitally competent and understand digital rights
Increase interest in the curriculum at all ages
- Recording memories increases interest in local and national history, world history and geography, sport, politics, citizenship and religious education.
- Students enjoy direct experience of comparing and interpreting different sources.
- Life-stories provide inspiration for works of art, performances, and writing of all kinds, from journalism to poetry and fiction.
- Students of maths, science, modern languages, design and technology, computing or PE benefit from hearing the memories of people whose whole lives were influenced by these subjects, in their choice of career or leisure activity.
- Students of many subjects learn valuable information about public records, copyright and the need to obtain consent
Improve community relations
- In inter-generational projects, young people find older people more interesting than expected; older people are surprised and touched by the interest of the young; experience is passed on from one generation to another; enduring relationships are formed which benefit institutions and individuals.
- Multicultural projects increase mutual understanding and respect. Young people are interested in stories about life in other countries, journeys to this country and memories of adapting to life in the UK. Differences are explained and common ground is discovered e.g. in food memories – of growing food, festive meals, and adjusting to British supermarkets.
- Many who struggle with written language can be good interviewers. Oral history interviews use simple prompts rather than long written questions. (“What was the High Street like?” “Describe your school”; “Tell me about your first job.”)
- English learners – even those who’ve only recently come to the UK – can achieve successful interviews, by listening hard and looking interested.
- Young people are proud of being interviewers – an admired role in adult life.
And interviewing is fun!
"An extreme historical adventure!"
Quote from a Blaenafon Youth Ambassador involved in a museum oral history project
Gypsy Waggon Project: This audio extract was created for an exhibition in the wagon shed at the Worcestershire County Museum in Hartlebury by students with traveller backgrounds from Stourport High School. In this track, the students interviewed Tana Smith about living in the Romany Maid when she was growing up.
The African Community Centre in Swansea worked with young people to research the lives of the Windrush generation who arrived in Wales from the West Indies in the 50s, 60s and later. Videos created by the project can be found on YouTube.
These pages for schools and youth groups were compiled by Julia Letts and Helen Lloyd. We would like to thank the following people who contributed ideas: Martin Bisiker, Gosia Brown, Stuart Butler, Rib Davis, Sarah Gudgin, Colin Hyde, Mary Ingoldby, Stephen Kelly, Rosa Kurowska, Sarah Lowry, Kate Melvin, John Ross, Pam Schweitzer, Kath Smith, Leanne Swales and Siobhan Warrington.