Oral History

17th March 2014: Oral History

Aims & Objectives:

  • To introduce students to the methodology, concepts and rationale behind oral history.
  • To get students thinking about the uses of oral history as a legitimate historical source.
  • To encourage students to reflect upon how they might use oral history to good effect in their own historical research.

Lesson Plan:

  1. Work in pairs for five minutes, and brainstorm on a sheet of A4 paper ‘What is Oral History?’ Students should examine what it might mean, what it might achieve, what problems it might raise. Then, students should feed back, and using a spider diagram on the whiteboard (or bullet points if using an interactive whiteboard), different ideas from the different groups should be expressed. Students should be encouraged by the teacher to justify their rationale, and each idea expressed could be the subject of a ‘mini-discussion’ (if the teacher felt it to be an avenue worth exploring). The reporting back activity should last about 10 minutes in total.
  2. After this, students should watch these two YouTube videos (by Mason Norton, Edge Hill University, and Carrie Hamilton, Roehampton University). Whilst watching these videos, students should be taking notes to add to the notes made in the previous discussion. The two videos last a combined length of 15 minutes.
  3. Following directly on from this, students should then discuss what they have heard in the video, related to the question ‘what are the advantages and disadvantages of oral history?’ This discussion should link in to previous ground covered on the nature and reliability of historical sources, and should focus on what oral history might achieve in terms of being a research methodology. This discussion should also last approximately 10 minutes.
  4. The teacher should then finish the lesson by re-capping what has been learned, and by posing questions to the students about what they have got out of the lesson. This should last 2-3 minutes.

Homework task:

Before students leave, a homework task can be set. The homework task will be in two parts- firstly, to find out more about oral history by logging on to the official website of the Oral History Society in the UK (www.ohs.org.uk), although if there is time this can be done in class. Secondly, students should design a possible oral history project relevant to something they are studying or have studied, for example, a 20th century history module that they may be studying as part of the A-level syllabus, or a community history course that they have studied previously at GCSE, or something that they will have touched upon during their first year of university study. Students should think about what questions they would ask (both in the interview and in the resulting essay), how they would carry it out, what methodology they would use, who they would interview, and what the project would aim to achieve.