Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Oral History

There was a story on SCA Today a couple of days ago, about a lady who is collecting the oral history of the SCA. On the one hand, this seems like a fine project: the packrat in me loves the idea of collecting these stories, and I suspect I'll buy the resulting books.

That said, I found myself rather taken aback by this assertion:
"It is not enough, however, to tell these tales around campfires. History, our oral history, needs to be preserved in a more concrete way."
As mentioned above, I understand the motivation here rather deeply. But this statement is so bald that it leads me to notice that it's not actually true. Our oral history doesn't *need* to be preserved like this. Indeed, once it gets written down, it isn't oral history in any meaningful sense any more.

Oral history is very different from written: more mutable, more lively, often more resonant to the culture of the moment. I have to wonder: when you start writing it down, does the history shape the culture more, and the culture shape the history less? Does the act of compiling history like this make the culture less flexible on a subtle level, by reducing the tendency to reinterpret where we've been?

I'm really not sure, and I'm certainly not going to stand in the way of an interesting project. But it does make for interesting reflection...

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