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Oral History is "The People's History"

Oral history is an ideal methodology for preserving the stories of people and place because the goal is simply to share, record, and preserve the extraordinary moments of everyday life. Akin to extended open-ended interviews, oral history is an internationally used, interdisciplinary research methodology that prioritizes marginalized voices and counterstories and usually oral history involves multiple sessions with a narrator.


“An invaluable method for documenting the experience of the invisible; [oral history] allows the narrators to speak in their own voices of their lives, loves, and struggles” (Boots of Leather and Slippers of Gold, Liz Kennedy and Madeline Davis 15). 


Using oral history in the classroom can help students gain a greater understanding of how the self and culture intersect (Pollock; Mills et al; Mason Bolick et al), overcome stereotypes (Culhane and Frantz), improve technical literacies (Kuhn and McLellan), and provide a means for contesting and (re)informing historical narratives (Bischoff and Moore; Eick).

Current / Past Oral History Projects

Blue Ridge Pride LGBTQIA+ Archive

Launched in 2019, Blue Ridge Pride LGBTQIA+ Archive is an oral history and physical artifacts repository dedicated to preserving LGBTQIA+ history of the South. We are a community-based project in partnership with UNC Asheville's Special Collections and Blue Ridge Pride Organization. The archive offers community training workshops (where you learn how to do oral history interviews), produces a variety of educational media (from K12 lesson plans to historical walking tours), and hosts community outreach events for intentional gathering among LGBTQIA+ communities. We are always welcoming volunteers. All training provided.

Our Lives. Our Stories. Our Way.

Learn more.

West Asheville / New Belgium Brewery Place-Based Oral History

Karen Loughmiller of West Asheville Library compiled a list of interviewees who could speak knowledgeably about the periods of transition West Asheville had experienced over the past fifty years. Students spent multiple hours with interview participants (most in their 80s) in order to produce thoughtful profile pieces representing the diverse histories of West Asheville. This project was developed in collaboration with Asheville Design Center and New Belgium Brewery. 

Good Reasons To Preserve Your History
Lower Alzheimer's Risk 

A major outcome of telling your life story is an increased sense of life purpose and improved mental health (e.g., less depression, higher rates of activity). Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, conducted a study over seven years tracking more than 900 people with an average age of 80. Those with a higher sense of life purpose were more than twice as likely to remain free from Alzheimer’s with 30% less decline in overall brain function. 

Pass on Cultural Identity

Textbooks, movies, and online media may not accurately reflect you or your family. The stories told about Southern Appalachia, where I live and was born, feel foreign to my lived experiences. Oral history is a world-making approach that allows you to tell your story in your own way, preserving your unique experiential knowledge and passing that on to your family and the general public. Oral history offers "evidence from a new direction" (Paul Thompson), and preserving your life history creates opportunities for challenging dominant ideologies and stereotypical beliefs. Kennedy and Davis describe oral history as “an invaluable method for documenting the experience of the invisible; it allows the narrators to speak in their own voices of their lives, loves, and struggles” (15). 

Help Manage Chronic Illness Symptoms

Sharing one's oral history can help individuals feel less consumed by managing symptoms of chronic illness.

Decrease Isolation and Loneliness

Oral history is a deeply intimate process that generally involves one interviewer and one historian speaking for an hour or more at a time over the course of weeks, months, or years. We build friendships and, generally, share pictures of children / cats / plants along the way.

Deepen Connections with Family / Friends

Children, no matter their age, may think of their parents only in relation to the self. Parents get stuck in time, and their growing up and aging years conceived of as radically different to the current generation. And yet, learning, love, disappointment, taking risks, dancing, boredom, and smelling the ocean: These are the timeless stories of life! We have so much to learn from one another, and sharing your growing up experiences makes it possible for your family and friends to deepen their connection with you. To not just know more about you, but also to build stronger relationships moving forward with one another (Wardleigh).

Greater Sense of Life Purpose

We use stories--those told to us, those told about us, those we tell about ourselves--as a means for better understanding ourselves, our values, our wants, and dislikes (Lamsam). Knowing your family history increases a sense of core identity and self-confidence (Family Search). One of the most cited benefits of life histories in palliative care research is the sense of closure and connection they provide at end-of-life situations for the bereaved.

The process of sharing your life history has been shown to improve one's sense of self and life purpose, which improves mental and emotional health, slows cognitive decline, and so much more.

Enhance Emotional Processing

For those who have life regrets or have experienced trauma, you may find that oral history is a therapeutic tactic within a larger mental health plan. During oral history sessions, we use trauma-informed care practices to help individuals process emotions and center resiliency.

Jim Cavener
Mabel Portugal
Elaine and Amanda
Holly Boswell Collection
Yarned Iron, Downtown Asheville
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