What is Oral History?

Brian “Doc” Murphy
Student Researchers: Reina Jimeno, Taylor Culberson, Juan Rivera, filmed by Mario Avent , Fall 2018

Click here for more information: What is the South Phoenix Oral History Project?

Teaching Oral History (Lesson Plan)

Rationale: Teaching students about Oral History can help to address issues of agency, local history, and evidence, as well as academic and research rigor. Plus, using student researchers means that much more work can be done, because of the sheer human power!

But before we begin, we first need to agree on the purposes of Oral History. Since it is a collaborative process, the best way to teach Oral History from the beginning is to… well… collaborate with the students.

To begin, students need to question and consider the following prompts:

  1. What is Oral History and;
  2. How will we use it?

In most cases, first-year college students don’t automatically know the questions to ask as they ponder or think about these two prompts.

Class time: 60 minute

Lesson Breakdown:

  1. Begin with the “overhead” question: What is Oral History? What do you think it is? Write the two questions/prompts on the board, and ask students to guess, brainstorm, or surmise the answers in an overhead or big group format. 
  2. Connect Four: Provide students with parts of an article on Oral History. One page is plenty. I use the first two pages of UNC’s The Writing Center article, or 8 Steps to Oral History by Paul Ortiz. Follow the Connect Four activity breakdown for about 40 minutes. At the end of the activity, students should either have an answer to one or two questions, or a definition of the term under review. In one discussion of Oral History, a group had the following to say:Oral History is a way to gain an inside perspective of a person or group’s experiences by analyzing values, culture, or other topics, while presenting it in a specific contextual purpose. It allows people to gain and relate to experiences from within. 
  3. Upon reading the definitions from Connect Four, discuss as a class the challenges or hangups they might face in the project.
  4. Pass out Willa Baum cards. Ask students to read their tip and explain why they do/don’t agree with the tip, or provide an example.

This post is part of a series on the South Phoenix Oral History Project. Click here for more information.


Willa Baum Cards (developed from Willa Baum’s Tips for Oral History http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/libraries/bancroft-library/oral-history-center/oral-history-tips)

What is Oral History and How Will We Use It? https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/oral-history/

8 Steps to Oral History, by Paul Ortiz https://oral.history.ufl.edu/files/march-2014-8-steps.pdf 

Close Reading for a New Topic, developed by Summer Cherland Connect Four