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From the Smithsonian Institution Archives

What is Oral History

Oral history is a technique for generating and preserving original, historically interesting information – primary source material – from personal recollections through planned recorded interviews.  This method of interviewing is used to preserve the voices, memories and perspectives of people in history. It’s a tool we can all use to engage with and learn from family members, friends, and the people we share space with in an interview that captures their unique history and perspective in their own words. Oral history stems from the tradition of passing information of importance to the family or tribe from one generation to the next.

From Merriam Webster Dictionary

oral history

Definition of oral history

1: a recording containing information about the past obtained from in-depth interviews concerning personal experiences, recollections, and reflectionsalsothe study of such information

2: a written work based on oral history

From Baylor University Institute for Oral History

What is oral history and why is it important?

Oral history enables people to share their stories in their own words, with their own voices, through their own understanding of what hap- pened and why. With careful attention to preserving our sound recordings, the voices of our narrators will endure to speak for them when they are gone.

From the Oral History Association

What is the definition of oral history?

Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.

From Oxford Languages

o·ral his·to·ry/ˈôrəl,ˈōrəl ˈhist(ə)rē/noun

  1. the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events.

From the Glasgow Women’s Library

So what are oral histories and why is it important to record them?

Oral histories have been described as ‘the first kind of history’. They’re the passing on of knowledge, memory and experience by word of mouth. They can take the form of anything from folklore, myths and stories passed from person to person, to a formal interview about a particular event with someone that is recorded and kept in an archive as an historical resource.

They’re a way of gathering, recording, and preserving a diverse range of personal experiences that generally are not well documented in written sources or traditional history in Western society. Their personal nature makes them a great primary source for people wanting to discover more about a certain event or era, providing an insight into the impact events had on the people alive and involved.

Principles and Best Practices Glossary

From the Oral History Association:

Archival Formats: Glossary of Terms

Terms Used in the Preservation of Audio, Video and Motion Picture Film

2021 Conference

Oral History Conference

FREE Presentations and Live Q&A Sessions

PLUS:  Workshops on Doing Oral Histories

The Michigan Oral History Association’s 2021 Conference and Workshops will be held October 9-16.  

FREE variety of recorded presentations beginning October 9, include:

  • The Settlement and Integration of Latinos in Michigan
  • The Detroit/Southern Michigan Punk Scene
  • The PBB Crisis in Michigan
  • Hockey in the U.P.
  • Capturing Unheard Voices
  • And more!

On October 15th and 16th, live (Zoom participation) Q&A sessions will be open free to the public.   

In addition, active and new members of MOHA will have access to helpful conference workshops (and a copy of the MOHA’s Guide to Doing Oral History) that provide foundational knowledge for new practitioners, feature panel discussions of key topics in the field, and include consultations. 

Presentations will be uploaded as MP4s on October 9th and made available asynchronously via the MOHA website. Zoom links to Q&A sessions will be available with registration.  Sessions will coordinate with the national Oral History Association (OHA) conference.

Watch for notices to MOHA members and the MOHA website: for session descriptions, schedule, and registration information.

MOHA Guide

A Guide For Doing Successful Oral Histories”

Handy, easy-to-use for beginners and experienced.


  • Starting an Oral History Project
    • The Plan
    • Preparation
    • Paperwork
    • Quality Questions Result in Quality Responses
    • Equipment
  • Creating the Setting
  • Materials Check List
  • Tips for a Successful Interview
  • The Interview Is Over: Now What?
  • Guidelines for Transcribing
  • Ethical Issues
  • Copyright and Oral Histories
  • IRB Considerations
  • Selected Oral History Resources
  • Recording Oral Histories
  • Using Oral Histories:
    • – In the Classroom
    • – For College Study
    • – To Enhance Museum & Library Exhibits
  • Sample Forms

Copy of Guide included FREE in (first) MOHA Membership (Extra copies: $6)

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB) hosted an Oral History workshop conducted by MOHA, with presentations by Board members Billy Wall-Winkel and Cam Amin, both with experience and expertise in conducting oral history projects. Workshop participants were provided information on interview skills and a discussion on how to tackle a community oral history project. LTBB received a Native American Library Services Enhancement Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for their project Ndbaajmowinaanin (which translates to “Our Stories” In Anishinaabemowin.

For the full content of this article see the Summer 2019 Issue.

LGBTQ Oral Histories

In Wayne State University’s course, Oral History in the School of Information Sciences, graduate students have been interviewing LGBTQ Detroit leaders since 2016. In that time, Kim Schroeder’s class (Coordinator, Archival Program, Lecturer and Career Advisor, and MOHA Board member) has had the privilege of interviewing all types of activists in the community including founders of a trans support group (Trans Sistas of Color), doctors working with the LGBTQ community during the 1980s AIDS epidemic, an activist assuring fair housing for AIDS patients, publishers of gay newsletters, and many activists working in a myriad of ways to support the community. These oral histories were part of an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum.

For the full content of this article see the Fall 2019 Issue.

The Schizophrenia Oral History Project

The Schizophrenia Oral History Project is an archive of life stories of persons with schizophrenia. Narrators are women and men with schizophrenia who are sharing their lives in an effort to increase understanding and reduce stigma related to mental illness. Their stories reveal not only their struggles, but their remarkable courage and resilience, their hopes, dreams and talents, and their concern for others.

For the full content of this article see Spring 2019 Issue.

Critical Lifelines: Portraits and Stories of Home Care Workers

Personal Care Aide Henrietta Ivey
Khalid Ibrahim Photographer

Critical Lifelines: Portraits and Stories of Home Care Workers. Michigan State
University received a fellowship from the Library of Congress American Folklife
Center to capture the stories of 30 Personal Care Workers across Michigan through
in-depth interviews and photographs. This oral history project is proving to be an
important vehicle for raising public and legislator awareness of a major public
health issue and strategies for addressing the issue. The photographs and stories
have been archived in the Library of Congress for future use by the public and
researchers interested in workforce issues.

The full text of this story can be found Spring 2019 Issue

Asian Pacific American Community

Efforts by the City of Holland and the Herrick District Library to more fully serve Holland’s diverse communities led to collaboration with Grand Valley State University, Latin Americans United for Progress and St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. Oral histories with Hispanic residents were collected as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. Partners then launched a similar project focusing on collecting portraits and oral histories from Asian-Pacific Americans. These became a permanent part of the Herrick District Library’s genealogy collections.

This complete article can be found in the Summer 2016 Issue.

The Black Voices in the Copper Country

Derhun Sanders poses with MOHA Board member Lindsay Hiltunen at the
Michigan TechArchives after participating in the Black Voices oral history project 7

Derhun Sanders is a member of the Board of Trustees of Michigan Technological University as well as an alumnus.

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections collected oral histories for the Black Voices in the Copper Country project. The Black Voices oral history project is part of an award-winning research project to investigate the social and cultural history of the Upper Peninsula and Michigan Tech. University Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen presented on the Black Voices oral history project as well as methodology and best practices for collecting under represented voices through oral history at the National Council on Public History annual meeting in 2018.

Rebuilding the MOHA Database

We could use you help!

We are creating a bibliographic index that indexes every Oral History Repository in the State of Michigan – regardless of size!

If you know of an Oral History Repository – please go to the Repository Location Submission Project page with the following information:

  • You Name and Email
  • Repository Name
  • Repository Full Address
  • Repository URL
  • Repository Administrator
  • Repository Administrator Email

By completing the form – the information will be sent to our project email. If you don’t have all the information but you use Oral History collections based in Michigan – then just add what you can on the form and we will trace the remaining information back from there.

Winter 2021 Issue – Current Issue

  • Conducting Oral Interviews Remotely: Using Your Smartphone for Oral Interviews
  • Detroit 48202: Conversations Along a Postal Route
  • Memoriamedia Review
  • Voices from the fight: An oral history of the four-year movement to defeat Donald Trump
  • Book Review: “A2 Insight; the Interviews”
  • The Oral Interview Adds to the Stories of Food and Restaurants in the U.P.
  • Passing of John D. Shaw

If you are seeing this page and you are a member then you need to login by clicking the Login link at the top of the page to the right. If you are not currently a member but wish to see the entire newsletter – you can join MOHA by following the links to become a member,

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Fall 2020 Issue

  • Book Review Series: “Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes: An Oral History of Detroit’s African American Community 1918-1967”
  • LGBTQ Oral Histories at Wayne State University Leave an Impact on Students
  • Incorporating Self-Care Into Oral History Methodology
  • The Twists and Turns of University Presidential Interviews
  • The Protection of Human Subjects in Research and Institutional Review
  • Board Oversight: OHA July 2020 Update
  • New Oral History Podcast from the National Park Service

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Summer 2020 Issue

  • Tips for Teaching Oral History in the Age of COVID
  • Remote Oral History Interviewing
  • Michigan History Day Award for Best Use of Oral History, HSM
  • COVID-19: Save Your Story
  • WSU Archival Administration Oral History Project
  • How a Pandemic Crisis Changes Oral History
  • Interviewing University Presidents
  • OHA Conference Moves Online

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