Shifting Questions

Shifting Questions: Re-examining the Need to Listen

by Steve Cohen


(Forthcoming,  Oral History Review Volume 40 Issue 1 Summer:Fall 2013, Oxford University Press)

I am not a oral historian, but I have had the privilege of being a project evaluator on several large oral history grants over the last 10 years. And so I was included as the outside evaluator on Oral History in the Digital Age. More times than I can count I have heard presenters at conferences begin a talk by appealing to the tenet “reading the transcript is not the same as listening.” And, in many cases, there has been a follow-up example, an illustration, or an existence proof demonstrating an oral history recording that, when compared to a transcript, does not faithfully honor the original. But, being a reader at heart, and an evaluator, I had to ask myself– barring these examples– it is worth my while to invest the time to listen? This short essay is about how my thinking on this question has developed and what might be done to address the question for skeptics like myself. . . .


This is a production of the Oral History in the Digital Age Project ( sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  Please consult for information on rights, licensing, and citation. 

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply