When it comes to oral history, the members of the Monash University Australian Generations Oral History Project thought big – real big.
Between 2010 and 2015 researchers, historians and sociologists at Monash University undertook one of the largest oral history projects embarked upon in the country with Australian Generations.
Their aim was to explore the concept of generations and to look at how social, technological and environmental changes affect the experiences and attitudes of different Australian generations.
Their final product was a whole range of research articles and books based on over 1,220 hours of interviews recorded with 300 people from all over Australia born between 1920 and 1989 – Builders, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers – exploring the way the world views of successive generations interacted, overlapped or diverged.
The massive scale of the project demonstrates the importance and advantages of oral history as a sociological and historical research method.
While the project itself is at pains to point out that a single oral history interview cannot be seen as a definitively true account, it is the volume of personal experiences that combined together give us unique perspectives and insights into the way we have functioned as a nation and as communities.
A single oral history may not be a definitive account, but when multiple interviews are combined together, when the multiple perspectives of many different people – participants and observers – are put together, a far more detailed and authentic sense of time and place can be built.
In fact, it is arguable that an oral history project can provide a much better historical record, both in range and depth, than traditional literary historical methods.
The Australian Generations project shows us just how much rich detail there is to be gained through an oral history project – one that includes the experiences, perspectives and voices of all of us.
As we always say at the GOHP – your memory is our history.
You can visit the Australian Generations website here, and, although the project has finished and the site isn’t being updated any more, you can still listen to over 80 recordings from Australians of all different generations and walks of life.