Alexandru Nemoianu – The Oral History Project of the Romanian-American Heritage Center
Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information through recorded interviews or written answers to a questionnaire, with or from participants in past events and ways of life. It is an old type of collecting historical information and in certain ways predates the „classical“ ways of collecting historical data.
An oral history doesen’t have to be long. The main goal of such a history is to present, from the point of view of the narrator, a certain historical period, event or way of life. An oral history is not about accuracy or the precision of the information contained in it but about the atmosphere and the subjective feelings of the narrator. In certain ways, oral histories could be compared with memoirs. The difference being that an oral history is collected not from a „mover and shaker“ but from an anonymous participant.
An oral history is the story of an individual’s life – life with its experiences in a certain place and at a certain time. It refers to the memories (many times hazy or embellished) of an individual regarding past events and the way he recorded them. It should not surprise that many times oral histories „contradict“ themselves. Those are very subjective sources of information, and they can be used only in connection with historical documents. It should always be remembered that the value of the oral histories is not about their accuracy, but about human feelings.
There are many documents referring to a certain historical event. Even though they are a most valuable source of infcrmation, they still miss something: f hey usually present „cold“ data. We rarely find in them the real sentiments that move people to action, with tieir qualities and defects as real people are. In this light, oral historj is able to complete, and in a way to humanize all other sources of information. For all these reasons. the Romanian-American Heritage Center started the Oral History project that continues from years past and is producing remarkable results.
In order to collect oral histories, two special questionnaires containing approximately ninety questions each, were made available to those interested. One of the questionnaires addresses the „new comers“ and the second the first generation of Romanian-Americans. A number of individuals helped us very generously (Professor Joanne Bock, Ms. Patricia Cuza. Deacon George Coca), and many individuals presented to the Heritage Center their own life history. The Romanian-American Heritage Center has in its collections in excess of seventy oral/life histories. Some of them were published in the pages of our Information Bulletin and others were used when completing studies, articles and different historical research.