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What are the advantages of oral history?

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Oral history captures individuals' everyday perspectives, unique life experiences, speech patterns, use of language and contemporary mannerisms. Oral history enhances a historian's broad range of historical resources, including primary and secondary sources used to reference the past. Materials such as photographs, census data, letters, diaries, newspapers and memoirs are rich with historical information relevant for classroom teaching and historian?s research; however, these sources cannot match the unique benefits oral history.

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Learn NC explains the value of oral history, as it gives historians a chance to understand the viewpoints of the people whose records may not be available in other historical sources. While traditional documents are useful in helping historians document the past, an ordinary person's life rarely gets documented in these records. These official documents often feature famous individuals like politicians, businessmen and activists. Relying solely on written documents to reconstruct an entire period in history is likely to leave out some crucial information sought by a historian.

According to Learn NC, oral history compensates for the damage of the digital age. In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, historians would reconstruct an individual?s history from regular diary entries. Today, modern technology tools, such as mobile phones, emails and Skype, replace personal diaries and such fundamental records. However, many oral history projects are now recorded on video and used to capture more detailed information on the future generation.

A historian can learn different kinds of information from oral history. Although written documents can reveal a lot of information about an individual, they may not contain the specific information a historian seeks. Oral history allows historians to interview individuals on the questions of interest, and to gather first-hand information. Historical actors tell the story in their own words.

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