Toward a Public Oral History

Graham Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of Oral History

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195339550
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199940578 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Toward a Public Oral History

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The focus of this article is public oral history. Public history is a “slippery concept.” Perhaps the simplest definition of public history is that it describes a set of procedures undertaken by historians who are not employed in academic institutions. Within this definition, at least for some, funding is an important element that distinguishes public from academic history. Public history, Valerie Yow has argued, is “commissioned research in special communities,” so that “the targeted audience is the commissioner or the commissioner's chosen readers—not necessarily other scholars.” Public history might therefore describe the production of historical interpretations that are intended for consumption by particular audiences. It has been argued that this is an important difference: while academic historians write for one another, public historians are interpreting the past for a wider audience. Across the globe there are differences in the ways that public history is understood as unfolded in this article.

Keywords: oral history; public oral history; slippery concept; public history; academic history; academic historian

Article.  9606 words. 

Subjects: Oral History

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