Testimonies of War: Oral History in Theory and Practice - HI823

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 30 (15)







This class aims to bring awareness to the possibilities of using oral history as a way of understanding the past, using the topic of twentieth-century war as a case study. It will examine the advantages and disadvantages, classic texts and theoretical and methodological insights. It also features a strong practical dimension and will provide experience in interviewing, transcription and analysis. Sessions will typically include What is Oral History?; Understanding Memory; Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Doing Oral History I: Plans and Preparation; Doing Oral History II: Recording, Summarising and Transcribing; Interpretation: Reconstructive Evidence and Narrative Analysis; Oral History and Public History; Fieldtrip to The Imperial War Museum; Reflecting on the Oral History interviews I and Reflecting on the Oral History interviews II.


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Method of assessment

The module is assessed by 100% coursework, taking the form of two pieces of written work and a presentation:

1) a 3000-word essay on an aspect of oral history worth 50% of the mark. Students should engage with the theory and the historiography in this field and refer to particular case studies. Relates to learning outcomes 11.1-3, 11.7 and 12.1-2.
2) a seminar presentation based on the student’s own interviews worth 10%. Relates to learning outcomes 11.6 and 12.3.
3) a 3000-word reflective analysis of interviews conducted by the student worth 40%. Relates to learning outcomes 11.1-6 and 12.1-4.

These methods of assessment will test the ability of students to think critically, to access a range of sources and marshal effective arguments, to organise and communicate information and interpretations of information lucidly and to work with others in a group and improve their own learning, while reflecting upon the nature of the discipline and their own involvement with it. In addition, these methods of assessment will test the ability of students in terms of epistemological awareness and the recognition of and distinction between the different sources of historical knowledge.

Indicative reading

• Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory (London: Routledge, 2010).
• Sherna Berga Gluck & Daphne Patai (eds.) Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History (New York: Routlege, 1991).
• Ronald Grele (ed.), Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History, second edition (Chicago: Precedent, 1985).
• Robert Perks & Alistair Thomson (eds.), The Oral History Reader (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006).
• Donald Ritchie, Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide (New York: Oxford University Press 2003).
• Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
• Alistair Thomson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

11. The intended subject specific learning outcomes
Students will acquire a theoretical and practical knowledge and understanding of oral history. Upon successful completion of the module, students will:

11.1 have a wide knowledge of key aspects of oral history, in particular those focusing
on war;
11.2 have a critical appreciation of the merits and difficulties of utilising oral history;
11.3 further develop their skills in the critical analysis of historical sources;
11.4 have the opportunity to acquire first-hand experience in producing their own
source material by locating, interviewing and transcribing their sources;
11.5 have developed the skills of oral history interviewing and analysis;
11.6 have developed an understanding of the application and use of oral histories of
war in the public arena through engaging with work on oral history and public

12. The intended generic learning outcomes
Upon successful completion of the module, students will:

12.1 Be able to marshal information effectively, through the study and discussion of secondary sources
12.2 Have built upon the command of those learning outcomes which they acquired during their undergraduate studies, notably the ability to challenge received conclusions and to cultivate a broader epistemological awareness;
12.3 Have enhanced their proficiency with regard to improving their own learning and performance, notably in undertaking their own oral history interviews and reflecting upon the practice;
12.4 Have developed their inter-personal and communication skills significantly through experience of oral history interviewing and reflective group discussion;

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