Conducting and presenting oral history

Edited by Dr Johan Wassermann (2002)

Discovering our past

Discovering our past teaches us about ourselves and about the people and places we see every day.  We must remember that the full history in South Africa and all over the world has been hidden and distorted.  By writing a history you may uncover information about the past that you can’t read anywhere else.  Major events are not the only contributing factors to history and it is important to include the stories and opinions of ordinary people.

Today’s events are still influenced by those of yesterday.  Our future depends on our past, and by learning about our past mistakes we may lead better lives and build a better future.  Researching our own history will help us to appreciate our everyday surroundings, not only heritage sites.  Remember that local history is about ordinary people and their experiences and challenges.

The power to change our current situation will develop through the new understanding of our communities through history.  It will also help you to develop certain important skills like writing, research and analysis.  Writing history is fun because it will allow you to influence how your own past is presented.  After all, it is your story.

Starting out:

You should start out with a goal in mind, for example a presentation or written piece about your topic.  This will require some planning.  Then decide on your topic.  It works best when its something that you are passionate about.  You may want to begin with a subject like your own community or family, a specific event, organisation or place.  Now you accumulate your sources of information and study them.  Make notes.  Don’t be hesitant to ask for help.