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My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

[Detail] My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses of Oral History

Oral histories are firsthand accounts. They provide insight into how ordinary people experienced extraordinary events. However, they are subjective, based on individual memory, which studies on eyewitness testimony have shown to be flawed. Strong emotions and the passage of time are among the factors that can influence memory.

Michael Quintero provided a highly descriptive (and occasionally profane) account of his experiences on September 11; he acknowledged that, in December when he is recording his thoughts, he cannot remember every detail of the day’s events. Listen to Quintero’s interview and answer the following questions:

  • What parts of September 11 does Quintero seem to remember particularly well? What information suggests that he remembers those events well? Could there be another explanation for why these events are so vividly portrayed? What benefit does having access to these vivid accounts provide?
  • What details of the day does Quintero acknowledge not remembering? Why do you think these events are less vivid in his memory?
  • Listen to Quintero as he tries to remember where he spent the night on September 11. Does hearing him talk through this lapse in his memory cause you to think differently about the recollections of eyewitnesses? Why or why not?