What is Oral History?

Oral history gives history back to the people in their own words. And in giving the past it also helps them towards a future of their own making.

Paul Thompson The voice of the past 1978

What is Oral History Australia?

Oral History Australia is a non-profit body whose members practice and promote oral history.  The aims of Oral History Australia (OHA) are:

  • to promote the practice and methods of oral history
  • to educate in the use of oral history methods
  • to encourage discussions on all aspects of oral history
  • to foster the preservation of oral history records

The OHA South Australia/Northern Territory came to life just seven months after the national body was founded in Perth in July 1978.  There are now associations in each state.

Guidelines of Ethical Practice


  • Oral History Australia was formed in 1978 as the Oral History Association of Australia to promote the practice of oral history in Australia. There are Associations in each State which provide information and forums for discussion about oral history. In 2013 the Association became Oral History Australia.
  • The OHA is concerned that due regard is given to ethical practices and strongly advises that the following guidelines be followed by anyone involved in oral history.
  • Oral history involves recording, preserving and making available candid information that may be sensitive or confidential. The Association advises all interviewers to act to preserve the rights and responsibilities of
  • the different parties involved and to refuse to work in any other way.
  • These guidelines describe ethical practice only. Information about method is available elsewhere and it is hoped that no-one undertakes oral history without being competent in interview technique.
  • Questions regarding any issue arising from these guidelines may be directed to Oral History Australia.

The interviewer’s responsibilities are to protect the rights of interviewees by explaining:

  1. the purpose of each interview, how it will be organised and recorded, whether it will be placed in a repository, and what interviewees will receive after the interview, such as a copy of the tape, transcript or planned publication oral history copyright, the implications of assigning copyright to another party, and the rights of interviewees to have a say in the use of their material by asking for anonymity and/or placing restrictions on use of the interview during their lifetimepossible future use of interviews by all parties involved such as the interviewer, interviewee, and a repository
  2. giving each interviewee an agreement to sign which clearly states whether the interviewee will retain copyright or assign it to another party and under what conditions assignment of copyright is granted; any change in use not covered in the original agreement would need to be renegotiated
  3. conducting interviews with objectivity, honesty and integrity
  4. being aware of defamation laws and the implications, for all parties concerned, of recording potentially defamatory material
  5. treating every interview as a confidential conversation until an interviewee gives the right to share information through an agreement
  6. ensuring that interviewees are given the opportunity to review, correct and/or withdraw material
  7. ensuring that interviews are preserved for future researchers by, if possible, placing them in a repository under conditions agreeable to the interviewee.

The interviewer should ask that funding bodies or employers

  1. provide a written contract or agree to a written proposal that clearly states the purpose and intended use of interviews and what copyright provisions apply
  2. accept the confidential status of interviews until the completion of a signed agreement allows otherwise
  3. allow the interviewer to act professionally and to abide by the guidelines of ethical practice of the Oral History Association of Australia
  4. place interviews in a repository where they will be available for research, subject to any conditions placed by the parties involved

Guidelines for university researchers undertaking oral history

University researchers undertaking oral history interviews require University Ethical Approval of a Project Involving Humans.

Experienced oral historians in Oral History Australia have prepared a guidance sheet to assist applicants seeking ethics approval for an oral history project and assessors of oral history projects.

Download the guidance sheet here.