Alice Holtin Paul Camp

Geraldine Severino

Jim Gray

 

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“Historical Researcher” is a term loosely used today and needs to be clearly defined as to what an historical research is and what their responsibilities are in regards to documenting past histories; according to “professionals” in the field.

Historical researchers are those who have received specialized training in the academic field of history or related fields and who are engaged in a research for publication or academic pursuit with the intent to increase the understanding of the public about the operations and activities of the past. They are often involved in a serious, professional, or scholarly research projects and the documentation of information and events of interest. An “Historical Researcher” is one who inquires, a person whose work is investigating or obtaining hidden evidence or information.

It can be one of or relating to history, based on or concerned with events in history in relation to past historical events, figures, costumes or weapons. It can be focused on teaching stories, handed down which may include valuable information such as “Oral Histories”; verbally transmitted information about past events or archived documentation or personal papers. Often oral history provides information about non-written events, where records have been lost, destroyed or may never have been recorded at all. “Oral History” involves evidence taken from the spoken words of people who have knowledge of past events and traditions and is often recorded on tape and then put in writing; later being used in history books and to document claims.

Oral History is the practice or tradition of passing cultural or family information to further generations by word of mouth, or story telling, often containing information not available in other historical forms and serves to enrich written history with human feelings and personal accounts of global events. It is an account of something passed down by word of mouth from one generation to another. Oral history is considered by some historians to be an unreliable source for the study of history. However, oral history is a valid means for preserving and transmitting history. Experience within literate cultures indicates that each time anyone reconstructs a memory, there may be changes in the memory, but the core of the story is usually retained and is considered invaluable by professional societies, researchers and libraries throughout the world.

Contemporary oral history involves recording or transcribing eyewitness accounts of historical events. Some anthropologists started collecting recordings on phonograph cylinders in the late 19th Century. In the1930’s the “United States Library of Congress” began an oral history program to record traditional folk music, and accounts by surviving witnesses of the  American Civil War, slavery and other major historical events, onto acetate disks. 

Before the development of written language in a given society, Oral History was the primary means of conveying information from one generation to the next. The most common form of such transmission was through storytelling with the stories collectively known as the “oral tradition” of a people. The combination of that oral tradition with morals and rituals passed down by word of mouth is known as the folklore of a society. Although not as prevalent now as in the past, oral history is still very much alive among many North American native groups and especially throughout the southern states.

Such information passed on has often shown a surprising accuracy over long periods of time. For example, the “Illad” an epic poem of Homer described the conquest of Troy, was passed down as “oral history” from the 8th Century BC until it was recorded in writing by Pisistratos and finally accepted as fact.

The most popular examples of oral history are the works of several authors that have, over the span of many hundred years before the birth of Christ collected information which resulted in the works being included in a collective book known as the Old Testament of the Bible. The New Testament was likewise created by four different authors whose slightly differing versions of many biblical events were combined. The Holy Bible was therefore almost entirely created using “oral history”.

A RESEARCHERS RESPONSIBILITY:

There is no question that “written and documented” history is the basis of research, but “Oral History” cannot be and should never be discounted. An historical researcher does not have the right to accept or reject research information either because it is written or given orally; to do so inputs his or her own interpretation on such history and could prove disastrous. Such was the case of many “historical interpretation” accounts of American Civil War history. Documentation was provided by northern writers that the war was legal, when in fact it has since been proven it was in fact  unconstitutional. So called researchers claimed it began over slavery, when documentation today clearly reveals it began over the state’s rights being ignored in direct contradiction to the U.S. Constitution; and after the U.S. Congress reported as much to the President of the United States; Abraham Lincoln.

Written and Oral history must be considered equally important and it is the express responsibility of the researcher to present all information uncovered as it is found; either through documented sources or by oral sources. In a controversial historical subject both sides of the subject must be presented and laid open to public scrutiny. To do less in to infringe upon the rights of the reader to decide for themselves and may in fact delete important information. It is the responsibility of the researcher to provide all pertinent information; never to sit in judgement and to never provide only what they may “think” is correct and place their personal judgement above that of the public.