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There’s a characteristic of oral history which isn’t much talked about, and very subtle.  It’s about voice.

You know how it is that when we read a novel we invent a voice for the characters. When we know figures in history for whom there’s no film or sound recordings, we invent a voice for them. It’s a primal thing.  Because by the voice human beings judge character.

And one of the interesting things about oral history is that the overwhelming majority of people who are recorded have never had a voice. And I’m sure that when researchers listen, they’re often surprised – one way or the other.

Now I don’t know how much that discovery affects the way in which a researcher would write about the interviewee in a history at all. But I know that it affects the way you think about a person.

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