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Oral History
Memoir and
Oral Biography
and Archiving

Oral history is both broad and deep. There are many reasons for conducting an oral history, many ways of going about it, and many final products. Some oral history projects are intended for archives where researchers and artists will make use of the primary source material. Other oral histories are destined to become family heirlooms, or books, films, or videos from the start.




Full-life oral histories are personal. They recount the life story of a person cherished by a family, company, or community. They may be broad and cover all years of a life, or cover specific aspects of a life in depth.


Topical oral histories are used to create a human record of major events such as 9/11, Katrina, the Iraq war, the demise of manufacturing-based cities, the Beatles in America, space exploration, and more.


Books & Lives produces oral histories for archives or publication, and for full-life or topical oral history projects.

What's the difference between a memoir and an oral history? Memoirs (not as long or as detailed as autobiographies) are written. They rely heavily on the literary skills of the author to deliver a good story. Oral histories are spoken. They rely on an exchange between a well-informed narrator and well-informed interviewer to produce compelling  testimony.





Oral history interviews can be rewritten to form the basis of a memoir. The resulting text is highly edited and utilizes various literary skills and devices to create a good, readable work.  


Oral biographies are similar to topical oral histories, but the topic is a person. Truman Capote and Robert Kennedy, for example, have each been the subject of an oral biography, a life story told by others. 


Books & Lives conducts interviews for oral biographies and accepts commissions for writing or ghostwriting memoirs. 

Periodically, Books & Lives  offers workshops in oral history theories, methods, and practices. Participants in former workshops, taught with Jeff Friedman, PhD, have included: faculty, graduate students, community leaders, writers, and history enthusiasts working on various projects. Next workshop: See workshop page this website.





Teaching oral history after twenty years of practice is deeply satisfying. It's a pleasure to share knowledge and to help design oral histories to meet graduate requirements or heighten awareness of community issues.


Consulting work can be accomplished via Skype or in person anywhere in the world. Planning, designing, archiving, researching, resolving ethical concerns, fundraising, or choosing technology ... we can help. 


Books & Lives works effectively with many different types of clients to achieve project purposes and goals. 

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