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Oral History & Memoir

Many women do not have collections of documents that provide the details of their life stories. Two other ways to record and preserve a woman’s life story are to create an oral history or a memoir.

An oral history is a life story shared orally through a series of conversations with another person. It is not just an interview, where questions are asked and answered. It should be a meaningful exchange between the two persons involved, which goes beyond the straight narrative of the life to explore the feelings about the experiences shared, and the insights gained. They are recorded conversations, either on audio or video tape, which provide an archival record that can be deposited in a museum or archival institution.

Oral histories are sometimes created to supplement the paper documents and to explain them, to give them personal interpretation. Even when a woman’s archival collection is extensive it is beneficial to conduct an oral history to complete the collection.

In many cases, an oral history may be the only way we have to create a permanent record of a woman’s life. Care should be taken to do it appropriately. Some guidelines are provided here.

Some women prefer to create a memoir rather than participate in an oral history process. A memoir is a written record of a life, created by the person who lived that life, based on memory and reflection. It may be written near the end of a person's life, or a series of memoirs may be created over a lifetime. It may be written to explain or enhance a collection of documents, to provide an organizing narrative for them, or it may stand alone as the only record of a woman's life.

Women's memoirs continue in the twenty-first century to be rare and precious documents. Many women do not have the ability or the opportunity to write their own stories. Many accounts are lost after creation. Too many women still believe that their stories are insignificant and not worth telling.

Women need to be encouraged to create oral histories and memoirs of their own lives and of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and friends. Only by creation of these types of records, and the donation of them to appropriate archives, will the richness and diversity of women's lives be represented in future history–making.

Student & Academic Services for The Alberta Women's Memory Project - Last Updated July 11, 2024

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