"In a certain sense, all men are historians." — Thomas Carlyle
"The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." — Harry S. Truman
"I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth." — Tim O'Brien
Oral History is the verbal, first-person account of events from the past. It is the first and most traditional way history has been passed down over the years. The first historians were storytellers who sat around fires describing events from their own lives as well as experiences of ancestors as far back as they could remember. Learning about the past did not begin with a textbook but as personal stories and lessons shared with friends and family.
Thomas Word / Germany / 1945
Thomas Word moments before his oral history interview Bearden, AR / May 11, 2007
The modern day oral historian must adapt to the technological age in order to not be silenced by it. As with AETN's WWII Oral History Project, In Their Words, video, audio, and Internet technologies are now the mediums for the voices well acquainted with historical events such as World War II. As a result, instead of just family and friends listening, the entire world can now benefit from oral history testimonies of veterans like Mr. Thomas Word of Arkansas, for example, whose personal photos and stories about his experiences in WWII provide rich and meaningful insights about what it was like, which can provide wisdom to future generations.
Just as anyone could be a historian long ago, ordinary people today have a history as important as those deemed worthy enough to be studied in schools and written about in books. One can read a book or watch a documentary about the past, but to hear someone describe the sights, sounds, and smells of his or her own personal experience is what lends history meaning. Once information has meaning, it becomes part of our own experience and, in turn, our own history.
As learning from our own history helps us keep from making the same mistakes of the past, listening closely to oral histories reveals universal themes of human experience, and one slowly discovers a greater truth: that which unites us is much more common than that which divides us.
We hope that you will take time to explore our collection of World War II generational oral histories.