Their Stories: Why Oral History Matters.

LGBTQ+ history has traditionally been passed down orally. Through stories, shared experiences, and even gossip, queer people have kept alive their art, colloquialisms, and their truth. Oral history is a huge component to understanding the queer experience (as for other cultures). However, it is a more modern development for institutions to note the value of oral histories. Elizabeth I. Dixon’s article The Implications of Oral History in Library History discusses this value and the role Oral History can play in our understanding of the past:

“When properly conducted and prepared, [oral histories] are often broader, more revealing documents than diaries or journals.”

Oral histories have the unique ability that most other resources don’t have– intimacy. Being able to have a candid conversation about a specific event/moment allows you to see other perspectives, primarily those you might not have considered. These stories allow you to have first-hand accounts that would’ve not been available otherwise. For example, if we were analyzing a dictator *cough cough* Maduro *cough cough*, when you look at rhetoric from those allowed to publish their work (and therefore likely supported by the powerful), perspectives will be skewed. Oral histories from a wider range of people would allow a view of society in context without the filter of what’s approved by those in power.  

Of context, Dixon writes: “…Those weighty facts, so well preserved in the archives, were created and manipulated by men, but those facts alone cannot reveal the reason for their creation and manipulation. The story behind the facts–the motivation of the men who made them–is often too difficult to obtain. It is the gap of which I speak.”

Oral history plays an important role in our perception of a time and place. It lets us experience a first-hand view and helps us form a better understanding of a specific moment. While a single interview may not necessarily be all that helpful, with multiple, it is possible to string commonalities together and learn the intimate parts of history. I’m happy to see oral history get the recognition it deserves and hope we can all appreciate the stories it has kept alive to this day.

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