About Oral History

History of Queensland Branch

The national body was founded in Perth in July 1978 with the Queensland branch of the OHAA coming to life some time later. In Queensland we are now known as Oral History Queensland Inc.   Queensland has three Life Members – Sue Pechey 2007 (deceased), Lesley Jenkins 2007, and Suzanne Mulligan 2009.

Governance – A copy of Oral History Queensland’s Constitution (based on the Model Rules) is here.

What is Oral History?

“Oral history is a picture of the past in people’s own words”. Beth Robertson, The Oral History Handbook, 2000.

Find out more about what Oral History means here.

Oral tradition, stories and memories have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. However the modern definition of oral history refers to tape recorded interviews. The term was coined in the 1940s by Columbia University historian Allan Nevins.

  1. Oral history interviews are recorded using question and answer format.
  2. A well-prepared interviewer has knowledge of the subject to be discussed gained through background research.
  3. The person interviewed shares memories from personal participation or knowledge of the subject.
  4. Potential subjects for oral history interviews are boundless, however most have historical interest and value.
  5. Practitioners of oral history are encouraged to make the results of their interviews available to other researchers.

Statement of Value

In September 2021, Oral History Australia adopted a statement outlining the value of oral history. The Statement of Value is intended as an introduction to the many benefits of oral history, particularly for those considering developing their own oral history projects. Read the Statement here.

Why we use oral history

Oral history preserves the past in a unique way. Although initially used to record the memories of influential people, it soon became a technique for recording the experiences of ordinary people, particularly those whose voices have been ignored or silenced.

Oral history recordings not only preserve memories but also voices. Every interviewee shares stories in their own words. The tone, the inflections and the emotions in each voice are captured, adding depth and meaning to their words.

One of the greatest oral history practitioners was Studs Terkel.  Explore his website and listen to many of his interviews here.

Ways to use oral history

Oral History Australia encourages oral historians to deposit their recordings into a state, local or national repository where they can be made available to other researchers.

There are many ways in which oral history can be used. Some are:

  1. Quotations and information from interviews are used in publications – books, theses, reports, essays, magazine articles and on websites.
  2. Excerpts from interviews, in written or sound format can be used in exhibitions and museum displays.
  3. Excerpts from recordings are broadcast on radio and television or can be used as sound bytes on websites.
  4. Oral history excerpts can be used as part of audio walking tours or as dialogue in plays.  Here’s a site using oral history excerpts on walking tours – Soundtrails.

See more ways to use oral history here.

Practising oral history

Oral History Australia (OHA) is committed to promoting best practice in oral history research to protect the interests of both interviewers and interviewees, and help ensure the longevity and usefulness of oral history interviews. Learn more about best practice, including ethical guidelines here.