“Historical Researcher” is a term loosely used today
and needs to be clearly defined as to what an historical research is
and what their responsibilities are in regards to documenting past
histories; according to “professionals” in the field.
Historical researchers are those who have received
specialized training in the academic field of history or related
fields and who are engaged in a research for publication or academic
pursuit with the intent to increase the understanding of the public
about the operations and activities of the past. They are often
involved in a serious, professional, or scholarly research projects
and the documentation of information and events of interest. An
“Historical Researcher” is one who inquires, a person whose work is
investigating or obtaining hidden evidence or information.
It can be one of or relating to history, based on or
concerned with events in history in relation to past historical
events, figures, costumes or weapons. It can be focused on teaching
stories, handed down which may include valuable information such as
“Oral Histories”; verbally transmitted information about past events
or archived documentation or personal papers. Often oral history
provides information about non-written events, where records have
been lost, destroyed or may never have been recorded at all. “Oral
History” involves evidence taken from the spoken words of people who
have knowledge of past events and traditions and is often recorded
on tape and then put in writing; later being used in history books
and to document claims.
Oral History is the practice or tradition of passing
cultural or family information to further generations by word of
mouth, or story telling, often containing information not available
in other historical forms and serves to enrich written history with
human feelings and personal accounts of global events. It is an
account of something passed down by word of mouth from one
generation to another. Oral history is considered by some historians
to be an unreliable source for the study of history. However, oral
history is a valid means for preserving and transmitting history.
Experience within literate cultures indicates that each time anyone
reconstructs a memory, there may be changes in the memory, but the
core of the story is usually retained and is considered invaluable
by professional societies, researchers and libraries throughout the
Contemporary oral history involves recording or transcribing
eyewitness accounts of historical events. Some anthropologists
started collecting recordings on phonograph cylinders in the late 19th
Century. In the1930’s the “United States Library of Congress”
began an oral history program to record traditional folk
music, and accounts by surviving witnesses of the
American Civil War, slavery and other major historical events,
onto acetate disks.
Before the development of written language in a given
society, Oral History was the primary means of conveying information
from one generation to the next. The most common form of such
transmission was through storytelling with the stories collectively
known as the “oral tradition” of a people. The combination of
that oral tradition with morals and rituals passed down by word of
mouth is known as the folklore of a society. Although not as
prevalent now as in the past, oral history is still very much alive
among many North American native groups and especially throughout
the southern states.
information passed on has often shown a surprising accuracy over
long periods of time. For example, the “Illad” an epic poem of Homer
described the conquest of Troy, was passed down as “oral history”
from the 8th Century BC until it was recorded in writing
by Pisistratos and finally accepted as fact.
most popular examples of oral history are the works of several
authors that have, over the span of many hundred years before the
birth of Christ collected information which resulted in the works
being included in a collective book known as the Old Testament of
the Bible. The New Testament was likewise created by four different
authors whose slightly differing versions of many biblical events
were combined. The Holy Bible was therefore almost entirely created
using “oral history”.
There is no question that “written and documented” history is the
basis of research, but “Oral History” cannot be and should never be
discounted. An historical researcher does not have the right to
accept or reject research information either because it is written
or given orally; to do so inputs his or her own interpretation on
such history and could prove disastrous. Such was the case of many
“historical interpretation” accounts of American Civil War history.
Documentation was provided by northern writers that the war was
legal, when in fact it has since been proven it was in fact
unconstitutional. So called researchers claimed it began over
slavery, when documentation today clearly reveals it began over the
state’s rights being ignored in direct contradiction to the U.S.
Constitution; and after the U.S. Congress reported as much to the
President of the United States; Abraham Lincoln.
Written and Oral history must be considered equally important and it
is the express responsibility of the researcher to present all
information uncovered as it is found; either through documented
sources or by oral sources. In a controversial historical subject
both sides of the subject must be presented and laid open to public
scrutiny. To do less in to infringe upon the rights of the reader to
decide for themselves and may in fact delete important information.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to provide all pertinent
information; never to sit in judgement and to never provide only
what they may “think” is correct and place their personal judgement
above that of the public.