Interactive Oral History Interviewing

By Eva M. McMahan; Kim Lacy Rogers | Go to book overview

2
Reconstructing History: The
Epitomizing Image

E. Culpepper Clark
University of Alabama

All acts of historical preservation (by which I mean any commitment of thought, no matter how trivial, to a fixed medium) are governed by the prospect of future remembrance, and unless an individual is pathological, the motive in being remembered is to be remembered well--a good father, a good mother, a good teacher, a good president. From diaries to memos, from letters to oral history transcripts, people appeal to a universal audience for validation of their self-worth.

It is this concern for remembrance that gives history its psychological dimension. As Erikson ( 1975) noted in a social context, historians "are practitioners of a restorative art which transforms the fragmentation of the past and the peculiarities of those who make history into such wholeness of meaning as mankind seeks" (p. 114). The same may be said of history's psychological dimension. The act of remembering is therapy for the psyche, a Proustian search for lost time. It takes our individuated acts in any given moment, especially any bad things we have done, and connects those acts with the wholeness of our being in time, a wholeness expressed in our nobler, loftier senses of self. It is protective and restorative, and although it admits of negative self-disclosure (conceding bad things about one's self), even negative disclosures bend to the higher imperative of self-knowledge through self-justification. "We must always remember," Erikson observed, "that the autobiographer has not agreed to a therapeutic contract by which he promises to put into words all that 'comes to mind'" (p. 123). Finding a past that one can live with, and coming to terms with the past--these necessary acts of the well-adjusted person require that the past not simply be rediscovered but redeemed.

Despite recognition of a kinship between the oral history interview and psychoanalysis ( Lomax & Morrissey, 1989), there is some reluctance among oral historians to concede its therapeutic value. This reluctance, however, derives from the

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