Oral History and Historiography Oral Term Paper

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Shortly after the towers fell, Americans witnessed the horror and tragedy of those that had lost loved ones first hand. News spread quickly and within days, the event had reached the folkloric status of the assassination of JFK (McAlister, par. 3). As one recalls these horrific tales, the "War on Terror" appears to be a logical step. This is the perspective of one category of "oral account" of the events of September 11, 2001.

Shortly after the announcement of the U.S. response to the events of September 11, 2001, Vice President Richard Cheney stated, "It [the war] is different than the Gulf War was, in the sense that it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime. This statement could be interpreted in a number of ways. Interpretation of this statement has changed over the years, especially considering that the war continues to drag on without an end in sight. According to some accounts the current war in an extension of CIA missions in Afghanistan that began in the late 1979s.

The events of September 11, 2001 have been dubbed "Black Tuesday" by one analyst. This term conjures images of the death and destruction of that day, much as the term "black plague" or "great depression" conjure an emotional feeling as well. One must remember that it was not "Black Tuesday" for the faction of Muslims that claimed a "victory" over the "capitalist American pigs." This demonstrates the power of suggestion and the differentiation of an oral historical account.

Various ideals and philosophies serve as s lens through which to view a particular historical event. Fundamentalist Christians in the United States argue that militants manipulate sacred texts in a way the serves their own ideals. Fundamentalist viewpoints see the events of 9/11 as a wake up call from God to abandon sinful ways. Undoubtedly, there will be texts to this effect in the future that historians will have to decipher, just as we must take the writings of religious zealots into an account of past events such as the Spanish Inquisition or the Jacobite Revolution.

In 1949, Harry S. Truman announced a brand new program to help underdeveloped areas of the world. This triggered a round of emotional support from around the globe. This plan results in the intrusion of American culture, by way of several planned subdivisions to be dropped against the backdrop of ancient mosques and temples. Now, these American subdivisions have become icons for all that is bad about America.

One of the great debates among oral historians is whether memory or history dominates the interpretation of major events in history. An oral history project over the recent events of September 11, 2001 explored this topic. This event gave oral historians the opportunity to document the even close to the actual event. This study found that due to a need for rapid response, official public interpretation of the event was generated soon after the events occurred. Within hours, the public image was that of a nation filled with grief. This opinion was largely that this event would have clear implications for national and foreign policy. Clark notes that this opinion was not that of those that lived through the event, or who lost relatives in the event, but that of those that viewed it from a distance and that had a political interest in the events. However, the oral histories of those that lived through the event told a different story, particularly those that were discriminated against after the attacks for their outward religious beliefs.


Tendencies such as those presented in Dillon's observations of her classroom interviews present the greatest argument against the use of oral history as part of a historical narrative. First person historical accounts are subject to biases from the interviewer and from the interviewee. The use of oral history and the development of guidelines for conducting various types of interviews highlight the importance of oral history to our understanding of events.

The events of September 11, 2001 provided the stage for sociologists to witness the development of the oral history of an event as it happened. One of the key concepts that arose from the literature that was examined as part of this study was that there is a difference between the account as told by a third party who did not directly witness the events and a spectator on the scene. These differences in interpretation give us a better perspective when considering sources from historical accounts in the distant past.

The literature that was examined as part of this research gave us a perspective that changed with the various lenses through which it was viewed. The most prominent example of the account was the fundamentalist Christian perspective that included the wrath of God theory on the events. In every major historical event, it is easy to find various interpretations of the events depending on the political, religious and social standing of the person that is telling the story.

This study of the oral accounts and perspectives presented regarding the September 11, 2001 bombings gives us a better perspective from which to evaluate oral history sources that are not of our own lifetime. For instance, when one reads an account of testimony, it becomes necessary to examine the source more closely. One must delve into the personal history of the writer in order to understand how their "lens" might have affected their interpretation of an event.

The inclusion or omission of personal accounts into the historical record depends on the type of work that one wishes to produce. It is certainly easy to argue against their inclusion if one if looking for indisputable accuracy. However, this level of certainty of events is a fallacy from an academic perspective. Secondary historical accounts are often the "average" of the information that is available regarding a certain event. However, this does not necessarily make it accurate. History is influenced by many sociological, political and psychological forces surrounding it. Every account, even if generally accepted today, is merely someone's observation of the event.

It is easier to accept an "average" account of an event when it was witnessed by many people who reported the event from different angles. One example might be the history of the Battle of Gettysburg where thousands witnessed it and most accounts agree as to the major events. For events such as this, oral history can add to our understanding of the event. We can relive the event without fear of distorting historical fact.

However, when oral history is controversial and includes differing accounts, such as the assassination of JFK, then oral history becomes less credible. In cases such as this, oral history can still add a perspective to the analysis that would not exist without it. In the case of JFK's assassination, we know very few facts or certain. We know where he was standing, where other people were in relation to him, but we know few "facts" about the shooter. In this case, it is impossible to gain an accurate "average" of the information, but one can use oral history to formulate theories as to the events that occurred. However, until hard evidence is found, the events remain in the theoretical realm.


Let us take the things that we have learned about oral history and apply them to the various information that we have gleaned from accounts of the September 11, 2001 bombings. Let us further examine these facts by stepping outside of our own perspective and try to do this as a historian looking at the events. We discussed the "average" information about the event and its significance. Concerning the September 11, 2001 bombings we know several facts from the average accounts, but like events in history the facts tells us little about what actually happened.

It would be safe to say that one the morning of September 11, 2001 two airplanes flew into the World Trade Towers, causing their collapse and the deaths of many people. This is the basic information that everyone knew immediately. It was not until sometime after the events that the people knew information such as the names of those killed, the pilots, and the apparent reason for the attacks. Many people assumed that the first plane crash was a terrible accident, at least until they witnessed the second plane changing course and flying in a crash course with the second tower. It appeared that this was hardly an accident, but until this time, there was doubt as to what had actually occurred. The "official" account was not long to follow, but individual accounts began to emerge and continue to emerge. They morph as change as time passes and the events become further from people's minds. It took some time for people to process the events and to render perspectives based on their own personal filter.

In conclusions, this study provided insight as to the development of the oral history of an event. The September 11, 2001 bombings provided an…[continue]

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