I’ve done oral histories in the past and everything seems to always revolve around the same statement. “…but I don’t have any good stories.” I’ve convinced a few narrators otherwise, but people honestly believe they need to be part of some major event in a major way in order to be historically relevant. One of the points of oral history is documenting every day life for every day people. Good stories as an entity and idea are completely subjective, too (meaning I would probably think you had lots of good stories, even if you didn’t think the same).

Let me give you an example. We learn so much about culture just through stories. I interviewed my own grandmother and although it took some persuading, she told me not to expect much, that she just happened to live through the time period (World War II) that we were collecting. However, her stories brought a vibrancy and a renewed understanding of what life was like for everyday people on the home front. Always the rebellious one, my grandmother recounted how students flooded out of her high school on VJ Day, took a train into New York City, and rejoiced at the news that war was over. This retelling also allowed her to come to terms with the past, with her saying she wouldn’t and didn’t feel so jubilant knowing so many people had died in Japan as a result. In the history books I’ve read, I never heard about students flooding out of school, but to me, that was a great story! I’ve had similar experiences with other narrators as well. There’s something about verbally telling your story that brings a special sort of magic in a way.

“Good stories” are a part of every day life. We want to document what hasn’t previously been documented, and that generally means interviewing people without celebrity. There is so much to be mined from simple storytelling, and the impact it could have on how future generations tell history.


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