The Use of Oral History in Public History Audio Walks

These days we are just a finger click or page turn away from a popular presentation of the past. If you chose to, I’m sure you could spend a whole 24 hours just consuming history through television and radio programmes, in magazines and on the internet.

Oral history audio plays a key role in many of these presentations but the viewer or listener tends to absorb it in a mostly passive capacity. Developments in technology, like GPS and smartphones, are now allowing us to break free from our living rooms and to engage with the past in a more active way.

Jill Liddington has argued that people acquire a sense of the past through memory, landscape, archives and archeology. The use of oral history in audio walks brings all four together almost uniquely in a public history context. The result is a powerful and engaging presentation of the past. In fact, it is more than a mere presentation. The use of fragmented narrative and located memory gives each user an opportunity to share in the process of interpretation. They do not just consume the historical narrative but participate in the experience, and this allows them to develop their own meanings.

It is this use of oral history in public history that I will explore in my essay. As well as outlining the opportunities offered by audio walks and located memory, I will also look at how they are constructed and the challenges they present both to an oral historian and to a public historian.

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One Comment on “The Use of Oral History in Public History Audio Walks”

  1. Graham Smith says:

    I also like the way that sound walks can be a more accessible version of sound sculptures. Both challenge the listener to interpret, to put themselves into the landscape. Near field technology might make this use of oral history even more popular and certainly public historians need to be aware of technical developments, including mobile technologies, that can make (as you say) passive consumers into more active participants.


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