Oral history: what it is and main characteristics of testimony


What is oral history?

Oral history is the spoken testimony that is used as a source for the reconstruction of a past event and that is entrusted mainly to memory, which is why many experts simply call it oral tradition. There is much to be said about this type of expression, since it is, if not the first, the fundamental form in which other types of expressions within oral literature begin to develop, among which we find, for example, myths and legends.

Oral history is one of the most important forms of the transmission of information through the generations. To this day, it continues to be an important part of everyday life and, although in other formats, spaces and contexts, it functions as a source of information.

oral history

Main characteristics of oral history

In short, we are talking about a form in which experience and memory are used to approach specific information about a fact, consult other ways of life and, in general, topics that have not been recorded by traditional sources, so it is of great importance to identify its most important features. Let’s see the main characteristics of this expression below:

Function of oral history

Testimonies, as they are also known, were used in their beginnings as the only way to know the past, resorting to the memory of the inhabitants who were consulted and reconstructed the facts as they remembered them. In addition to the facts, oral histories would also allow expressing people’s expectations, desires, feelings, concerns, emotions, etc.

Sample of ways of life

One of the main powers of this type of expression is related to the way in which oral history is able to provide information about ways of thinking, ways of life, relationships with other people, with the environment, among other aspects that shape how other communities and cultures lived. This makes visible the differences between different traditions that allow the recognition of their identity and how they observe the world.

In this way, oral history brings the receiver or addressee closer to the knowledge of a particular experience of an individual or community.

A tool for the historian

One of the most important features of this type of expression has to do with the material it constitutes for historians, for example, since it becomes one of the most important elements of their practice and research.

Oral history allows the historian to have a tool to provide him with data, in this case it is presented as an interview, where a series of questions are asked or the topic is oriented to more relevant data. Oral history was also of great importance for later medieval chroniclers, as well as other later figures.

Subjective component

Another fundamental aspect of oral history is linked to the subjectivity it includes. This is because oral history, the testimony as such, comes from an individual who narrates the experience or subject from his own memory, so that he resorts to his own interpretations, conceptions and ways of seeing the world to reconstruct the facts. In addition to this, it is changeable with the passage of time, so that it is possible to re-evaluate it.

Oral history as a document

Nowadays, oral testimony involves another series of processes due to the number of stories that are collected, especially if it is a concrete investigative process. In this way, each of the testimonies begins to be evaluated from several aspects, such as the internal consistency of the story, the evidences that have been found if so, possible comparisons with other testimonies, among other processes that allow a reconstruction of the facts of greater solidity.

To learn more about other literary manifestations, remember that in our section you can find all types of literature, divided into categories with much more information. If you want to know about movements, historical periods, genres, among others, in the complete section dedicated to Literature you will be able to access easily.