can be described as the oldest type of evidence. Before people started
to write down or otherwise record their history, they passed information
from generation to generation through story-telling. It still goes on
today. How do you know about the lives of your grandparents, your Mum,
your Dad, other family members? Probably because you have heard them
talk about it to you or to other people. It's not hard to understand
therefore why oral testimony is such an important source of evidence.
it hasn't always been recognised as being important. Lots of historians
in the past thought it was unreliable and preferred to rely on written
evidence. They thought the story might have changed as it was passed
down and that there was no way of checking whether what it revealed
was true. This had lots of unfortunate consequences. Written sources
tend to record the details of important, rich or otherwise noticeable
people rather than ordinary people so a lot of information about the
lives of people like you or me was lost.
history never went away completely. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries
efforts were made to record the thoughts and beliefs of all kinds of
people on all kinds of subjects. A lot of these testimonies have survived
albeit in written form. Think about the evidence found in Royal Commission
reports to name just one example. Oral history experienced a renaissance
in the 20th century when the whole business was made much easier by
the invention of the telephone and recording equipment. Interviewing
people had never been easier and their thoughts could be recorded for
useful is oral testimony to historians today? The answer is simple -
very! If we are careful about using it and treat it like any other kind
of evidence we can find out a lot about the past. Oral testimony can
tell us what life was like in the past, what people thought about various
subjects, even how people talked.
you have found about the different kinds of evidence that historians
use, move on to the next section to find out about bias.