These oral history interviews were collected by researchers to chronicle different aspects of life in the Appalachian coalfields. The interviewees, often referred to as the “narrators,” are ordinary people sharing their personal recollections of the past. Oral histories provide the kinds of details about the past that are more easily extracted from conversation and personal memories than from other historical sources.

Listen to one of the interviews from the above collection. Consider the following questions:

  1. What do these interviews illuminate about life in coal mining communities during the twentieth century?
  2. What can oral histories tell us that more conventional data sources – paper documents, statistics, or photographs, for example – cannot? 
  3. How should one evaluate the credibility of an oral history interview and how should one substantiate information from the interview? How do these evaluations compare to our assessments of paper documents? 
  4. Whose voices are privileged in oral history interviews and whose are left out? How do these gaps compare to ones found in the physical archive?


Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.