5 Questions About: Oral History in Latin America: Unlocking the Spoken Archive


We’ve asked authors of books that were recently reviewed in the Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read them. In our latest installment of the series, David Carey Jr discusses Oral History in Latin America: Unlocking the Spoken Archive

Read the review by Yolanda Chávez Leyva in OHR.

What’s it about and why does it matter?

With a keen eye for Latin America’s unique linguistic, cultural, political, and social milieu, this guide to conducting oral history research addresses methodological, ethical, and interpretive issues in ways that make it applicable to postcolonial societies. Ranging from studies of elites to society’s most marginalized members and characterized by diverse topics that range from the environment and immigration to foreign relations, this book explores the ways scholars have adeptly used oral history to revise the study of Latin America’s past and reconsider its present. It also offers a road map of sorts for students and scholars interested in using oral history methodology to understand the past in Latin American and other postcolonial regions.

How does oral history contribute to your book?

Oral history is at the center of this book. With oral traditions dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, Latin America is a rich region in which to study and practice oral history in light of the region’s unique linguistic, cultural, political, and social milieu.

Oral History in Latin America: Unlocking the Spoken Archive. By David Carey Jr. New York: Routledge, 2017. 252 pp.

What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?

In Latin America as in many parts of the world, understanding the recent past is contingent upon oral sources. This is especially true in societies where a large number of people are illiterate and where storytelling remains an important means of transmitting knowledge. As such oral history is a crucial methodology for understanding how scenarios of terror and dispossession powerfully shape the experience and worldviews of poor, rural, indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and their relations with the state. Oral history can be used to decolonize studying the past, particularly in Latin America where nations that have been subjected to violent colonial and neocolonial forces continue to strive for more just, equitable, and peaceful societies.

Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?

Grounded in Latin America, this book deploys case studies and examples in ways that will resonate with oral historians whether their area of expertise is Latin America or other regions of the world. While deeply exploring the politics in which oral history takes place, this book offers methodological discussions of techniques and practical advice on how to organize and conduct oral history research. It is as helpful for oral historians in the field as it is for oral historians in the classroom.

What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?

In light of Latin America’s colonial and neocolonial experiences, decolonizing research and analysis is particularly imperative. Oral history is a crucial tool for deconstructing the past from the perspectives of everyone from marginalized rural indigenous and Afro-Latin Americans to urban Hispanic elites