Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Oral history

core definition

Oral history is an approach to the construction of history that relies on verbal testimonies.

explanatory context

Oral history may include stories handed down through an oral tradition or it may be restricted to memories of survivors from a specific historical period (in which case it is recent history).


Oral history is often associated with social or popular history which concentrates on the 'everday' world of ordinary people.


Oral history has to be as careful as any other historical form in interpreting its material and cannot necessarily regard its sources as unproblematic. Oral traditions tend to refine and represent history in a way which reflects social norms and developments and often contains an element of myth. Memories are also often distorted or logically reconstructed.


More detail in Researching the Real World Section

analytical review

Perks (2009) writing for the The Oral History Society states:

What is Oral History?
History is all around us, in our own families and communities, in the living memories and the experiences of older people. We have only to ask them and they can tell us enough stories to fill a library of books. This kind of history - that we all gather as we go through life - is called ORAL HISTORY

Everyone has a story to tell about their life which is unique to them. Some people have been involved in momentous historical events like the Second World War, but many others haven't. Regardless of age or importance we all have interesting experiences to share.

Most importantly, historical documents and books can't tell us everything about our past. Often they concentrate on famous people and big events, and tend to miss out ordinary people talking about everyday events. They also neglect people on the margins of society - ethnic communities, disabled and unemployed people for example - whose voices have been hidden from history. Oral history fills in the gaps and gives us history which includes everyone. Unfortunately, because memories die when people do, if we don't record peoples’ life histories they are lost forever.


University of Leicester (undated) asked 'What is oral history?':

Oral history can be defined as the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker. It may take the form of eye-witness evidence about the past, but can include folklore, myths, songs and stories passed down over the years by word of mouth


associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section


Perks, R., 2009, 'What is oral history?', updated June 2009, available at, accessed 24 December 2016, still available 11 June 2019.

University of Leicester, undated, 'What is Oral History?'. Available at:, accessed 21 March 2018, still available 11 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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