My interest in oral history has been rekindled of late for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my father turns 82 later this year. I have always enjoyed listening to his stories about growing up on the farm in rural NSW, his entry into the airforce at age seventeen, his exploits up in Cooktown and the Jardine River in far north Queensland, his meeting and marrying my mother, and our early family life. With my mother passing away two years ago, I have a renewed sense of urgency to research and record my father’s life.
Secondly, I came across some old notes I’d taken many years ago at an oral history conference I had attended, hosted by the Oral History Association of Australia. In the same folder, among other things, were some notes I’d taken from the book, Sparrows Point (my edition from 1988) by Mark Reutter, on the history of the steel works at Sparrows Point near Baltimore in the USA, in which several oral histories were used as part of the research. Also in the folder was an early edition of the Oral history handbook (now in its 6th edition, 2006) and some scrawled notes about the oral history collection at the National Library of Australia. Interestingly, libraries have been strong advocates and custodians of the oral history tradition, both at the national and local community level.
Not surprisingly, I have now been looking at knowledge management and the commonality of storytelling with the oral history tradition. Many people are familiar with Stephen Denning and his work with storytelling at the World Bank several years ago, popularised in his book The Springboard. Since then, he has co-authored Storytelling in Organisations and authored The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling. In the Introduction of the latter book, Denning splits storytelling into the external and internal. “Story in its external aspect is something to be observed, analysed, and dissected into its component parts. Story in its internal aspect is something that is experienced, lived as a participant”. It is relatively easy to see how an oral history shares those attributes.
As I begin to work on my oral history project with my father, I will be thinking some more about storytelling as a knowledge management practice as well.