The challenges of Oral History in Public History through popular music

A relatively new challenge is in the field of oral history is in using popular music as reliable historical evidence, particularly focusing on the period of the 1960s and 70s, as this era captured in the music of many artists through their songs, the mood of the time.  Many musicians voiced political and social themes on civil rights, war, feminism and sexual freedom and through this recorded a powerful oral history of that time.

On writing my essay on Oral History in Public History I will explore the difficulties and challenges of assessing social and political history in popular music. The author B. Lee Cooper suggests that ‘song lyrics can provoke the sense of ‘social remembering’, enabling the historian to examine social change in challenging areas including religion, sex, war, poverty and drugs within that period.’  In the new seriousness of music during this era, young musicians were voicing a growing contempt of American society and politics.  Many ordinary people identified with this mood, and the popularity of this music was demonstrated by the enormous sales of records.  For a historian, there is much qualitative and quantitative research that could be gathered through the sales and marketing of popular music.

Reflecting on this module on Oral History in Public History , I have found this subject fascinating and thought provoking. I have enjoyed the lectures immensely and also the experience of producing an oral history interview.  Thank you Graham.

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One Comment on “The challenges of Oral History in Public History through popular music”

  1. Graham Smith says:

    Interesting approach thinking about lyrics in this way. Another way to go is to think about how oral historians have approached the oral history of popular music. Thank you (and everyone else on the course) for your contributions over the last term. And a Happy New Year when it arrives.


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