Curiouser and Curiouser...

My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lost in Translation

My apologies to Alan MacEachern. In my post Bringing History to Life: The Attraction of Oral Histories I said that Alan MacEachern gave the analogy that oral history is like the colour commentary and written history is the play-by- play. Apparently he was not defending the use of oral histories in this manner and was using this example to question how the history was being used. To be fair, after some discussion this week, I did recall the questioning tone in his voice. So for implying that his words constituted a concrete statement rather than a question, I apologize. However, I think this underscores one of the real issues when dealing with oral history and that is the fact that when oral interviews or statements are transcribed or made visual, no matter how well- meaning the author, meaning and context can be lost. Tone, inflection, emphasis and emotion are often lost when oral interviews are put to paper. The subjectivity of the interviewer or listener can also play a part in changing the meaning of what the speaker has said. That being said, I still feel that oral histories are an important part in the telling of history and in historical research although it is up to the interviewer to ask for clarification and the researcher to use a critical ‘ear’ when dealing with these sources. Now I know how Bill Murray felt...


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