Knowledge is Key BP2

Keith Oddo

Knowledge is Key

Although there are limited problems with the field of oral history, there are minor concerns that must be addressed and never overlooked by the interviewer. If these specific details are ignored then the oral history interview loses all credibility. For starters, the person conducting the meeting must know who they are interviewing and frame their questions accordingly. The sex, race, age, and different culture rules all must be researched prior to the interview.[1] For example, in many cultures, such as Ladakh, a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, storytelling has a seasonal dimension, making it appropriate to tell stories during the winter, but not in the summer when the agricultural workload is at its peak.2 If these specific rules are researched, then the interviewer can produce the most reliable and truthful answers out the interviewee. However, if they are left out then the interviewee may be limited in the information that they tell the interviewer.

This brings up the problem of validating sources, which is the number one concern with an oral history interview. The interviewer must conduct enough research on the interviewee prior to the interview, in order to validate what the person is saying. If the interviewer comes in unprepared or does not have a second source to validate the interview, then who knows the truth behind what the person is saying. For example, I did an oral history interview on Dick Tarrant, the Coach of the Richmond Spiders basketball team from 1981-1993. He was the first person that I interviewed, and he seemed like a straightforward and nice elderly man. However, after talking with his players, the majority of them hated Coach Tarrant, as he would often verbally abuse them in practice, resulting in many players transferring out of the program. As the interviewer, I was unprepared, considering I only had one question that dealt with the relationship that he had with his players, allowing him to slither his way around the truth. If I had come prepared and interviewed a few of his players before I interviewed him, then I could have responded with a follow up question that shot down his statement that they had a great relationship, even to this day. If I had followed the rules and guidelines for conducting an oral history interview, I would have been more organized and able to orchestrate a professional caliber interview.[2]

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, the history major has lost significant market share in academia, declining from 2.2% of all undergraduate degrees to 1.7%. The graduating class of 2014, the most recent for which there are national data, included 9% fewer history majors than the previous year’s cohort, compounding a 2.8% decrease the year before that. The drop is most pronounced at large research universities and prestigious liberal arts colleges.”[3]

This is why it is crucial for scholars to adapt and integrate oral history into their field of study. It is fresh, allows for true emotion to be heard and felt, and if done correctly, can generate results that a book or writings cannot display. Unfortunately, the oral history field has hit multiple roadblocks in recent years, preventing the full potential of the field from progressing forward. Critics have stated psychological harm as a major drawback with oral history interviews, specifically the potential to trigger an unpleasant event or memory that the person has intentionally blocked out from their past.[4] Although this is a real concern and should be taken seriously, this is simply an overreach by the Institutional Review Board, the body charged by the federal government with protecting the rights, interests, and dignity of human research subjects, to postpone and get in the way of an idea that does not fit the norm. If prior research is done to validate the source, then the field has a bright future that will progress history in ways which have never been seen before.


Keith Oddo is a senior, Rhetoric & Communication Studies/History double major at the University of Richmond, where he is also a member of the men’s basketball team. He is a self-starter, poised to leverage outstanding communication skills and Division 1 basketball experience in the sports industry. In addition, Keith looks forward to working with Dr. Maurantonio and Marissa in a small classroom setting, furthering his knowledge of communication studies and expanding his viewpoints on controversial/current issues.

[1] Hugo Slim and Paul Thompson, “Ways of Listening,” pp. 114-25, In Perks and Thomson, The Oral History Reader.

[2] “Principles and Best Practices,” Oral History Association, accessed February 11, 2019,

[3] Valerie Strauss, “Why so Many Students Hate History – and What to Do about It,” The Washington Post, May 17, 2017, , accessed February 11, 2019,

[4] “Oral History, Human Subjects, and Institutional Review Boards,” Oral History Association, , accessed January 31, 2019,