First we ask, why do we gather stories? We gather these stories to: preserve a living memory of everyday life; understand a particular event through the stories of the people who lived it; gather alternative histories of a dominant narrative. Granted, many oral histories are used in collecting event histories like the collection of stories from the 9/11 attacks or the English coal miner’s strike. However, in many cases I have noticed that the collection of stories does come at a final point, a kind of last resort. The oral historian is seen as the person to get the story before the last people pass, or before a town is transformed or is removed, and so we end up speaking with the elderly or the last person who saw or experienced the event. Could my friend’s mother have a point?
In my research, I choose to use oral histories because they allow a broader and deeper understanding in the narratives of a rural place. They provide a non-linear and multi viewpoint approach to understanding the landscape as an assemblage of elements. In having my participants share their lives with me, I create my own narrative within the landscape. However, could I have subconsciously chosen to use it because I see the landscape at a point of decline and thus use the oral history as my best means of getting to the heart of the matter?
Stories and storytelling are important in our lives. They form the basis for so much of our identity and collective community. If the collection of these stories though is seen as something of a death sentence then perhaps we are going about the collecting all wrong. Perhaps story collecting should be inclusive, not just focus on the people who lived it, but also the ones who are living it. Focus not only on the past event, which is what the oral history is trying to recall, but also on the unfolding events that occur afterwards. Instead of a history, approach it from an oral tradition, an ever creating and making narrative of which we are all players within it.