Age & History
Collecting oral history of ordinary persons, as opposed to focusing exclusively on famous persons such as presidents, generals, and major authors, has become an increasingly serious enterprise since the 1970s. This expanded emphasis has co-occurred with what is often called “the narrative turn,” or the growing use of narrative inquiry, in a number of disciplines.
Making History, the online site of the Institute of Historical Research in Great Britain, offers a wealth of articles and references on the growth, organizations and themes of contemporary oral history (http://www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/). In the U.S., the website of the Oral History Association also provides a Wiki and a set of Principles and Best Practices for oral history, including goals, guidelines and standards for oral history interviews along with links to projects and pamphlets (http://oralhistory.org).
People’s stories have long been the focus in psychiatry and mental health; more recently, medical ethics, nursing and narrative medicine have come to the fore. In this portal, people offer a part of their own history. They tell stories about an important part of their lives: their health, which lets us infer their explanatory models for their chronic health conditions; other people allow us to infer information about their health and well-being as they co-construct conversation about their lives. The narratives of both groups allow us to see how older persons, with and without cognitive impairments, hold onto their histories, construct identities, reminisce about their past, and share their present.