Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oral History Style

Oral history has an advantage.

As a student worker in the Media and Oral History unit of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, I have a particular task. I sit down at a computer, throw on a pair of headphones, and listen to Georgia’s Republicans and Democrats tell their tales of political life. I transcribe these interviews, capturing the voices, the squints, the almost-Gallic shrug of shoulders in written words as video and audio recordings allow the personality of each politician to unfold.

This process should not be underestimated, Examining the ancient politicians of Rome or Greece, their character is determined today by the propaganda and biography found on old papyri. Georgia politicians are just as crafty and charming – and we can view it firsthand. Carl Sanders' immaculate bearing has not wavered over the years. Zell Miller displays the verve and showmanship of a country preacher. Max Cleland's intensity is punctuated with moments of sarcasm and guffaws. Oral history interviews capture the way these men and women see themselves and their careers, and their thoughts on Georgia politics today.

Students come to history on various paths. Many strive to close an existing gap in the field, whether it be a gap of language, time, or distance. Oral history offers us a different relationship with the past. It offers an immediate and lively transmission of historical events, something I have learned to appreciate. It is appropriate for our increasingly technological world. Oral history forces us to see a historical subject as human, and provides a glimpse at the past in the first person.

Post by Courtney Holbrook, Student Worker, Russell Library.

Courtney is a senior at the University of Georgia. She is the first contributor in a new series of blog posts titled, "Student Perspectives."

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