Fact or fiction: war veterans' oral histories



Publication Details

Morris, E. Benjamin. (2015). Fact or fiction: war veterans' oral histories. The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, 13 (4), 19-28.

Additional Publication Information

ISSN: 2327-0047


Critics of oral history have expressed fears that it may lead history into myth. This paper, drawing on work with military veterans, suggests that oral historians have the same responsibilities as any historian to check their sources and ensure that they are not unconsciously recording either myth or folklore. The conflict between public and private memory may affect the telling of personal accounts of events. This influences both what is disclosed and what is kept hidden. Many narrators may find the demands for amenability with public memory hard to resist, thus leading to personal histories that follow the contours of the public history rather than reflecting the experience of the narrator. Further, oral history narratives may be influenced by the need to construct a past with which the narrator can live. Any oral history recording may contain not only elements of, but also the effects of, myth, legend, and the psychological needs of the narrator. The fact that psychological trauma and myth may have influenced the narrative does not mean that the whole chronicle has to be dismissed. Rather, it suggests that the oral historian has a responsibility to cross-check his or her material to ensure that a reliable account is obtained. One of the greatest resources available to the oral historian in handling this issue is the dialogue that occurs in the taking of a narrative. The art of the oral historian is to elicit additional information so that the veracity of the narratives collected can be tested.

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