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Oral History and Podcasting

A collection of oral history and podcasting resources


This website will help you get started with oral histories and podcasting. Middlebury's Information Technology Services lists more podcasting resources. here.

Oral histories and Interviews

What's oral history?

Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people and communities. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies. (adapted from the Oral History Association).

Why do oral histories?

Oral histories lend a personal dimension to history by recording ordinary people and everyday life experiences. Oral Histories can fill gaps in our existing knowledge of history by providing insights based on first-hand memories and experiences. 

Are oral histories different from interviews?

Yes. The key difference between an oral history interview and an interview you might conduct as an ethnographer, anthropologist, or journalist is its focus on lengthy testimonies on past events and an emphasis on long-term preservation, often in an archive or special collections. 



What's a podcast?

A podcast is a digital audio file that is episodic in nature that can be downloaded or streamed. Podcast is a portmanteau of iPod and broadcast. Podcasts can be monologues, interviews, panel discussions, recordings of live presentations, and fictional or non-fictional narratives reminiscent of old-fashioned radio dramas.

Oral histories versus Podcasting

What's the difference?

What's the relationship between oral histories and podcasts? On the one hand, think of it like the relationship between your research notes and your final paper. Or an unedited film and the final film cut. Oral histories are uninterrupted interviews that provide an in-depth account of someon's personal experience, often focused on the past. 

Podcasts might include clips of an oral history, edited with music or sound effects with a narrator's introduction. But podcasts can cover any topic and can be of any length.

The main thing they have in common are the audio production tools used to create them.

Oral Histories and IRB

What's IRB?

IRB stands for the Institutional Review Board (IRB). If you are doing research that involves working with living human beings, you may need to get permission from the Institutional Review Board before you begin. Here's a link to Middlebury College's IRB Office. 

The Institutional Review Board (IRB) exists to project human subjects involved in research. 


Do Oral Histories require IRB approval?


In 2003, the Office of Human Research Protections within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided that “oral history interviewing activities, in general, are not designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge and therefore do not involve research as defined by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations at 45 CFR 46.102(d) and do not need to be reviewed by an institutional review board (IRB).” 

This means that because oral history usually focuses on the particulars of specific people, times, and places—instead of attempting to build knowledge and theories that can be generalized (applied to other people, times, situations, and places)—oral history is not subject to IRB review. 

This does not mean that using oral history methods always makes IRB review unnecessary, because whether this OHRP policy applies to a specific project depends on the scholar’s intent. Using oral history methods within a systemic investigation that seeks generalizable conclusions about living people is likely to constitute “human subjects research” as defined in federal law.

Not sure whether your oral history project involves “human subjects research”? If you want help assessing your project, please contact the IRB Office at

Learn more: Oral History and the IRB Process at Middlebury