Case Study: Oral History and Democracy: Lessons from Illiterates

Mercedes Vilanova

in The Oxford Handbook of Oral History

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195339550
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Case Study: Oral History and Democracy: Lessons from Illiterates


This article focuses on case studies in oral history with the backdrop of democracy and lessons learnt form illiterates. The “discovery” of illiteracy and its defining characteristics should be a main focus of oral history. The difficulties in reaching illiterates, the communication problems, and their frequent silences, especially in societies that have suffered civil wars and harsh political repression, challenge historians. The experience of interviewing them allows us to measure the degree to which the historian is anchored in the literate culture and complicit in the power of writing. This case study presents some results, a comparison between the samples, and the theoretical challenges about the role of democracy and illiteracy in situations of social and political upheaval. The research centers on proving that illiterates are not disruptive and that they show a moderate response. As a conclusion, future research is presented in the form of four conjectures which winds up this article.

Keywords: democracy; oral history; communication problems; literate culture; theoretical challenges; social upheavel

Article.  3624 words. 

Subjects: History ; Oral History

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