When many people think about history, they picture dusty books and fading documents housed in formal and imposing institutions. But, in fact, history is all around us, in the living memories of our own families and people we work with. When it comes down to it a great deal of what we know of past generations and people’s daily activities cannot be uncovered merely from reading books or official reports. Rather, it can only be revealed to us through stories, interviews, and spoken dialogue, or what is known as oral history. Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information through recorded interviews with participants in past events and past ways of life. It is both the oldest type of historical inquiry and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940’s.
And, if you stop and think about it, oral history has long been an integral part of the Navy. The verbal lessons a new sailor receives from his Sea Daddy and, yes, even the many sea stories he will hear along the way have long been an essential means of preserving the experience of past actions, battles, and events, and of imparting the experience to young sailors. Oral history, be it formal or informal, offers a chance to pass on the lessons of Navy life.