Oral evidence

Oral evidence is a vivid and immediate historical source which is particularly suited to the primary classroom. Oral evidence can be used to:

  • Make incidents and aspects of the past real for children. Hearing about an event from a person who can say ‘I was there’ makes the past believable. Many older people would say there was a far greater abundance of foxes, badgers, squirrels, rabbits, hares etc. forty years ago than can be evidenced today. Why must be the question?

  • Give children access to information that is almost impossible to obtain elsewhere. People’s memories carry far more information than is often written down about an event: for example, an account of the day of the ‘Hunt’ from a participant (or even a spectator) will have far more detail than a newspaper report. From a scientific point of view, we can have a first hand account of structural + environmental change within the village, changes in lifestyle and the environmental impact of same etc.

  • Ensure that the past is examined from a range of perspectives. The life experiences of the vast majority of people, particularly of many social, ethnic and cultural groups, are often under-represented in documentary evidence. Oral evidence gives us access to the experiences of a much broader range of people.

  • Allow us to share in the feelings of participants in events in the past

  • Help older children, especially, to examine how a person’s perspective can affect their memories of the past

  • Help develop children’s sense of time. Some educationalists now argue that children’s lack of prolonged, regular contact with grandparents and members of the extended family has had a detrimental effect on their sense of the past and of their own relationship to it.

An interview with an older person can be a rewarding and stimulating experience for children and the teacher but it requires very careful preparation.