Marianne Bailey May 25, 2023
Marianne Bailey Apr 30, 2023
In this 12-part series, we’ll be showing you how we created a legacy for our late Uncle Al using his stories, and how you might approach doing the same with a loved one in your family.
In a previous article, I wrote briefly about the evolution of oral storytelling and how the practice of repetitive oral traditions that pass stories down is just not a huge part of modern culture—as well as how that’s okay because unlike back then, we have technology to help us out. So let’s talk a little about that technology. What does oral storytelling in the modern world look like?
Modern oral storytelling can look exactly as it has for millennia: two or more people sitting down together, casually sharing stories about life, loved ones, hobbies, lessons learned, experiences, and any number of other things. The modern twist is that unlike hundreds of years ago, we have access to any number of recording devices to lock those stories down, which in turn can allow our descendants to see or hear those stories directly from us.
When my Aunt Jan asked us to come help her set up her recently purchased video equipment to record Uncle Al’s war stories, she unknowingly went above and beyond what she needed to. The video equipment wasn’t top of the line or anything too fancy. There was a camcorder, tripod, and an SD card to store the video. To some, that kind of thing is easy enough to set up, but it could be overwhelming to others (like it was for my aunt). But chances are, you’re already carrying the perfect camera around in your pocket right now, and don’t need to buy a camcorder. That is to say, if you own a smartphone, the only thing you might also want to consider getting would be a tripod and compatible mount for your brand of smartphone—only so you don’t have to hold the phone with your hands the whole time. Nearly any smartphone these days is going to have more than enough capability to record great audio and video. So when you sit down with your loved one to hear their stories, your smartphone is all you really need to capture that history.
One thing I always tell my DIYers (those who want to record their own oral histories and not hire someone to record it for them): something is always better than nothing. If your video is shaky when you’re interviewing your mom because you don’t have a tripod and you’re holding the phone by hand, that’s okay. Because years from now, after she’s passed, you aren’t going to care that the footage is shaky. You’re going to be beyond thankful that you can see her and hear her voice, and that your kids and grandkids will be able to hear her stories directly from her—almost as if she was still there.
For those of you who don’t own a smartphone, you may still need to purchase a camcorder if you want to record video of yourself or a loved one sharing their stories. But before you do that, know that recording audio only has plenty of merits too.
Check back next month for Part 6 to learn about oral storytelling preferences and personalities, and how to decide if you should opt for audio or video recordings. Or, if you’d like to read this series from the beginning, click here for Part 1.