Oral History

What is Oral History?

Oral history is a facilitated dialogue where a narrator is asked to recount important historical events within a community. This dialogue is recorded and preserved for future research and cultural understanding. The Smithsonian refers to narrators as “bearers of tradition,” while other institutions and groups may evoke terms such as interviewees, storytellers, witnesses, or testifiers. The purpose of an oral history is significant, since this purpose must be contextualized within an organization or group’s mission and vision.

The Oral History Association (OHA) has clarified this point regarding the distinguishing characteristics of oral history.  The general principles of oral history state, “Oral history is distinguished from other forms of interviews by its content and extent. Oral history interviews seek an in-depth account of personal experience and reflections, with sufficient time allowed for the narrators to give their story the fullness they desire. The content of oral history interviews is grounded in reflections on the past as opposed to commentary on purely contemporary events.”

Oral History and the OC&SEAA Center

The Orange County and Southeast Asian Archive Center’s strategic implementation of oral history practice is aligned with the UCI Libraries Special Collections and Archives’ collection development goals. Inspired by oral and public historian Michael Frisch’s concept of shared authority, we acknowledge that “… what is most compelling about oral and public history is a capacity to redefine and redistribute intellectual authority, so that this might be shared broadly in historical research and communication rather than continuing to serve as an instrument of power and hierarchy.”

Our oral history practices address gaps in the collections and the historical record; for example, regional communities that have been under-represented in museums, libraries, and archives.

Oral History Services

The Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive (OC&SEAA) Center provides training and guidance related to the practice of oral history and historical documentation to UC Irvine students, faculty, and staff, as well as to the wider Orange County regional community. The OC&SEAA offers consultations on best practices for oral history and documentation project design, implementation, and preservation through workshops, programming, targeted research resources, and a quality referral program.

The OC&SEAA is home to a welcoming oral history recording studio that is open to the community, a variety of audio and video recording equipment, as well as a flexible teaching and research space. The OC&SEAA trains our community to curate exhibits, complete digital history projects, and engage in collaborative initiatives to better preserve the memories and records of the Orange County community.

We have a very limited inventory of equipment that can be borrowed for short term projects. For more information, please contact us

Oral History Collections

Oral history collections acquired or created by the Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive (OC&SEAA) Center must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Support and enhance the collections of UCI Special Collections & Archives;
  • Advance community-centered archives practice, centering on communities not represented in the historical record;
  • Enhance our understanding of UCI history

Examples from previous or ongoing oral history initiatives:

  • Partnerships with people/units/organizations who are doing oral history work that aligns with our strategic goal to document underrepresented communities.
    • Beginnings of Activism for the Department of Asian American Studies
    • Viet Stories: the Vietnamese American Oral History Project
    • UCI Stories
  • Consulting & Repository Roles
    • UCI Law 10th Anniversary Project
    • Material of Memory: Revisiting Our Histories of Immigration
  • Workshops/trainings
    • Scandal in Real Time: Black Women in Politics Pre-Conference
    • University Affairs course on Oral History