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A glimpse at ORAL HISTORY

At the Scottsville Museum, information and artifacts are acquired in three ways: oral history, archaeology, and accessions. Oral history—oral: meaning from the mouth, and history: meaning what occurred in the past—is one of the ways you can add color and flavor to a town’s history. While researching an important event, like a war or a flood, you can ask the people who lived during that event about it and collect up all of their stories to get several different perspectives. One person may be able to tell you a story about how they were rescued out of a second story window by boat during a flood; another person might have a story about how his store items were seen floating down Valley Street.

Oral history does the part of making history come alive through the interesting stories of the people who lived it. In the days before writing and other forms of record keeping, oral history was the only way of handing down family traditions and stories of important historical events.

There are, however, some problems with oral history. As in all historical efforts, you can not rely on one form of data collection alone, or believe everything you find is 100% fact. You need to compare the stories of the people you interview with facts we have from history books, and information found in the archaeological record (that just means all the stuff we dig up from the ground and keep a record of) and from other primary resources.

What makes being the oral historian so great is that you can do several really cool things: play detective with old photographs by trying to figure out who the people are in those old black and white photos; uncover your family history in the attic; and learn American history through family and community history. After all, if your name was written all over the pages of your social studies book, wouldn’t you find it more interesting?

When you go to the “examples” page of this section, you can listen to examples of oral histories from the Scottsville Museum. Afterwards, go to the activities page to do some of your own history gathering! Good luck!

Now, let's learn a little more information about Archaeology.


How do we know?   Oral History   Archaeology   Archives/Accessions   Teacher/Parent