Oral history & the loss of an idol

Very sad to hear of the passing of Studs Terkel. He was an important historian and storyteller who helped to democratize the telling of history. His stories of “ordinary” people in their own words made history come alive for us all and helped us see where we fit into history. He was a personal hero to me and after discovering his work as a teenager, I’ve spent a lot of my life recording stories and studying Maine history.

You might wonder just what Studs Terkel could have to do with the MCHP. Sure, he never worked with us and likely never even heard of our work. Still, I think there is a connection. Nearly everyone I talk to while visiting the MCHP towns mentions a desire to record local history stories and certainly there are people all over Maine doing just that. Terkel’s books like Working and The Good War gave us personal stories of American history and I think the personal nature of those stories has made us all realize that we can play a part in telling our history. I talk to people all the time who are starting an oral history project or who want to share their own story and are looking for an outlet. Oral history is a very democratic approach to history and anyone can do it — sure there are methods and approaches that you should use and it can be intimidating to think of recording equipment. It’s probably not as hard as you think, though. And I promise you: it’s loads of fun. What’s better than hearing stories and especially stories of people and places close to you? And believe me, there is nothing like having those recorded stories after the teller has passed away.

At Maine Historical Society, we’re very interested in seeing more oral history go up on the Maine Memory Network and have recently created guidelines for uploading audio or video files. There are oral history recordings all over the web but MMN offers a central place for Maine stories. We’ll be posting those guidelines soon but feel free to get in touch with me if you want more details.

-Stephanie (sphilbrick@mainehistory.org)

About mainechp

Maine Community Heritage Project at Maine Historical Society
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