The collection and study of verbal accounts of past events by individuals who have experienced them. The source material is normally recorded with a TAPE RECORDER and later transcribed into written form, a procedure first begun at Columbia University in the late 1940s. Collections of such transcriptions are often housed in local, regional and national archives or in the records of historical societies.

Similar techniques to record descriptions of remembered sounds, called EARWITNESS accounts, are used in SOUNDSCAPE studies. A recent evolution in the traditional concept of oral history has been termed aural history in order to shift the emphasis from the transcript as a final document to the sound itself as recorded on tape. Thus, aural history involves the creation of a document in sound which, by virtue of being tape recorded, is historical as soon as it is made. Sound so preserved may be of several kinds:

  • sounds of an event (called an actuality), including sounds of nature, the playing or singing of music, and speech of all kinds;
  • a voice or voices talking about something happening at the time of the recording (a running commentary);
  • a voice or voices reminiscing about events of the past (recall).

All of these have historical value, and are often made with the intent of preservation for later use, such as for research, broadcast, public presentations of all kinds, as well as for educational purposes. The first centre with this emphasis was the Aural History division of the Provincial Archives in Victoria, B.C., established in the early 1970s.


Ref.: Sound Heritage, Aural History, Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C.