Oral History as Social Science Data

Tina Law, CUNY Graduate Center

Oral histories are an invaluable yet underutilized source of data for social scientists. Compared to newspaper articles and other primary source documents that are typically used by social scientists to study historical events, oral histories can provide unique insights by capturing the perspectives and experiences of ordinary people who participated in or witnessed these events, particularly those of socially marginalized people who are often overlooked or excluded by official historical records. However, two important challenges currently prevent social scientists from using oral histories more regularly and effectively as data. First, the longstanding methodological practice of qualitatively analyzing oral history transcripts can no longer be readily nor suitably applied to large oral history collections containing multimedia, which are increasingly common in the digital age. Second, social scientists differ considerably in how they operationalize oral history data for analysis as well as their practices in documenting these data processing and analysis decisions, which hampers collaboration and innovation in the use of oral history data. In this paper, I will propose some promising strategies for addressing these challenges—some of which leverage recent advances in computational methodology—in an effort to increase and advance the use of oral history data among social scientists.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 154. Innovations in Data Infrastructure