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What is Oral History?

For centuries history was passed down by word of mouth, but with the development of writing in many civilisations, people came to rely on written documents for information about the past.

Sound recording technology has enabled us to collect and accurately preserve word of mouth stories as oral history. It is a powerful means of recording and preserving the unique memories and life experiences of people, enabling us to eavesdrop on past events, feelings, attitudes and ways of life. This has been very much part of the Maaori tradition but is now given another dimension by being 'captured in time'.

What does oral history involve?

The primary form of the oral history document is the recorded human voice, with a written transcription or abstract accompanying it. We have begun using video recordings as well as audio recordings. When using oral history recordings for research, it is important to remember that the information is the person's memories, which form their truth. Sometimes interviews about the same subject will be different, or be different from what is written in history books. This doesn't mean the interviewee is wrong, but it is important to understand what bias they might have and how this might impact your research.

What is in our Oral History Collection?

We have over 500 oral histories in our collection. The topics are as diverse as architecture, immigrants, Hamilton suburbs, farming and the Hamilton Gardens. They are a wonderful source of information and really bring the subject alive, creating vivid and accurate pictures of our past. We also have excellent reference material to help anyone interested in recording an oral history of their own. These are held on Level 3 of Central Library. 

We are working to include our Oral History collection on our Heritage Collections online, but if you can't find what you are looking for, please contact us using the form below.

Browse our Heritage Collections

Explore digitised images and items from our collections online.

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Oral History Expression of Interest

If you wish to share your stories with us, please complete this form.

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Research Enquiry Form

Request information or make an appointment to view items at Central Library.

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