Oral Sources and PRC History: Best and Worst Practices

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Oral history

After grappling with such methodological dilemmas of finding interviewees, building trust, and recording or transcribing conversations, scholars of PRC history face different challenges as they shift from field research to the writing stage: how to present oral testimonies on the written page, and how to integrate oral history with textual sources. Drawing on the author's experience conducting more than one hundred interviews about the rural-urban divide, the aftermath of accidents, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, this paper offers practical advice about:- When to name names and when to protect anonymity;- How to track down interview subjects mentioned in written sources;- How to balance the scholarly impulse to frame and condense oral testimonies with the benefits of letting interviewees speak for themselves;- Which types of written sources most fruitfully complement oral histories. In addition to discussing the author's own discoveries and mistakes, the paper also highlights the contributions and shortcomings of other recent works that draw on oral testimonies.


Presented at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Seattle, April 2, 2016.

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