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Wilton J. Oral History in Universities: From Margins to Mainstream. 2011.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/7794
Oral History in Universities: From Margins to Mainstream
When I stumbled into the beginnings of my life as an oral historian in the late 1970s, in Australia, oral history was primarily an activity that happened outside universities. When pursued within universities, it was considered a fairly unsophisticated method for research projects. My own initiation came as a research assistant on a project to record the experiences of European refugees who had made their way to Australia in the years immediately preceding and following the Second World War. I went to my first interview armed with a tape recorder, some background on the topic, and no specific training in oral history. That initiation was not unusual since at the time there was limited, if any, oral history training offered at universities in Australia. There was also a deep skepticism directed at oral history by some academic historians. For those who did venture into the field, it was often with the belief that oral history interviewing was simply about asking questions and recording answers. It was seen as, after all, "just common sense." The skepticism - though now both more refined and more filtered - and the commonsense view can still he found within universities. However, the growth in university oral history courses, research projects, archives and other activities, their diversity and innovative nature, and the burgeoning literature on the teaching of oral history in tertiary institutions all suggest that oral history has moved from the margins to the mainstream, and that it is recognized as grounded in complex and sophisticated theories and methods. There is now a richness of oral history in universities, in Australia and elsewhere, that deserves exploring: its different practices and approaches adopted across disciplines, its literature, and its impact on students, staff, and on the relations between universities and their surrounding communities. In considering the role of oral history in universities past, present, and future, this survey makes no claims to be exhaustive or comprehensive and is limited by a focus primarily on English-language literature and on the programs, networks, and examples with which I am familiar, including my own teaching and learning practices. It aims, however, to provide an overview of key achievements, issues, strategies, and challenges, and to provoke thinking about ongoing and future issues, strategies, and concerns.