Using Oral History to Teach Social Studies

Oral history interviews are written documents or audio or video recordings of interviews with people who lived during a certain time period, experienced historical events, and desire to share their story about how those factors shaped their lives and the greater world, thereby providing primary sources for the study of history and other disciplines. 

Traditional methods of history focus on the experiences of leaders, such as presidents, generals and policymakers, and provide a hierarchical, top-down approach to viewing history, which can be very restrictive in terms of race, class, gender, nationality and other points of view.  Oral history enables the examination of the humanities through many divergent viewpoints.  Oral history is a way of capturing a multitude of recollections from history's eyewitnesses, many of whom are average people, soldiers, activists, immigrants, whose stories of their lives and times reflect the essence of epic events of the past. 

Through oral history, present generations can relive what transpired before they were born through the voices of past generations whose lives have become enshrined in history.  By using oral history in the classroom, educators can transform the traditional study of history, using textbooks and relying on dates and names, into vivid, animated discourse that will inspire and spark the minds and imaginations of students.

In operation since 1994, the Rutgers Oral History Archives features over 1,100 oral history interviews on its website, thus making this resource available to historians, researchers, academics, educators, students and the public in general. 

The Rutgers Oral History Archives website now features a resource area for educators, which offers lesson plans that incorporate the use of oral history into the teaching of social studies.  ROHA also offers an index that describes the scope of some of ROHA's oral histories, providing a way for educators to browse through the collection and use oral history excerpts in the creation of their own lesson plans.  

Visit the ROHA Digital Learning Center, which offers curated interview lists perfect for educators exploring various topics in history.  ROHA also has created a video tutorial to teach educators and students how to search the collection of oral histories.

For more lesson plan ideas, we recommend that you visit the NJ Digital Highway website.

If you are interested in ROHA educational workshops, please review the workshop offerings here.

Share how you have used ROHA in the classroom.

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