Oral History . . . As Scholarship
Most of the time I think of “oral history” as spoken description about the past captured in ways that help scholars achieve complete and accurate historical portrayals and analyses. But sometimes I begin to question myself on that point. If I ﬁnd in Vanity Fair magazine, as I did recently, an anecdotal article subtitled, “An Oral History of the Bush White House,”1 does that mean magazine journalists are poaching on territories that should be reserved for scholars digging for truths? With just a few interviewees among the hundreds who peopled the Bush White House, can we really get something that is thorough and accurate? What about all those interviews in People, Playboy, and Ladies Home Journal? In other words, how can I think of “oral history” as a method of scholarly historical research and analysis when it is also used to make news, provide titillating detail about noteworthy people and events, entertain with ﬁrsthand tidbits from insiders, and in general sell media products?