chapter  1
18 Pages

History and the Languages of History in the Oral History Interview: Who Answers Whose Questions and Why? Ronald J. Grele

Answers Whose Questions and Why?* Ronald J. Grele

Columbia University

Questions of memory, consciousness, and meaning in the oral history interview, of necessity, focus on two interrelated methodological issues: the role of the historian/interviewer in the creation of the document he or she is then called upon to interpret, and the creation of that document within a particular historical and social space and within a particular historical tradition (Friedlander, 1975; Frisch, 1979; Grele, 1985; Passeiini, 1980, 1987; Portelli, 1981; Schrager, 1983). Most analysis of this type has highlighted the potential of the oral history process to change our conceptions of the traditional task of the historian, but, for the most part, we have been silent about the ways in which our own disciplinary discourse, its assumptions, and its context, influences that process. Our concern may be, as we tell ourselves, to map that area described by Harris (1985) "where memory, myth, ideology, language and historical cognition interact in a dialectical transformation of the word into a historical artifact" (pp. 6-7), but we have not been particularly concerned about how our own professional discourse may set the template for that map.