History is not neutral

History is never a neutral reflection of past events. The historian actualises events that seem important from the point of view of the present and interprets them according to his or her experience, personal views, public opinion or the prevailing ideology. Subjective opinion cannot be ruled out in any work of a historian.

The interpretation of history is changing

Different interpretations of history still clash in Latvia. This is most evident in the two memorial dates, March 16 and May 9, which commemorate events of the Second World War from opposite ideological positions. In post-socialist countries, history is still used to fight for political influence. People’s consciousness is changing more slowly than official rhetoric in assessing past events. Documentary sources cannot always be relied upon. For example, in the court records of the politically repressed, the testimonies of the accused are recorded in the form and terminology of the repressive bodies, which is diametrically opposed to the people’s memories. Memories must also be assessed in terms of the distance of time and the unique psychological aspects of the memory process.

What does oral history reveal?

Pētot notikumus, par kuriem arhīvu dokumenti klusē, pētnieki atgriežas pie iepriekšējos gadsimtos pārbaudītas metodes – aculiecinieku un When researching events on which archival documents are silent, researchers return to the previously tested method of listening to eyewitnesses and event participants. In other words, oral history.

Oral history can also serve to understand the processes of change in society, culture, people’s beliefs and attitudes. For example, how the prevailing beliefs and values in society change and how they are affected by the views of the ruling majority.

Oral history differs not only in research topics and sources but also in the way in which the results of the research are presented. The results of oral history research can be prepared for publication in literary or artistic form.

When oral history is indispensable

Oral history is indispensable if you want to:

  • document family history
  • find out the traditions of a living culture;
  • document the local history of a parish, county, city or neighbourhood;
  • document the history of a profession, religion or other community; holiday celebration habits;
  • find out how relatively recent historical events have affected and continue to affect people’s lives today.