Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 June 2007
Recent interpretations of oral histories in Africa have been based increasingly on the premise that each teller creates a unique oral text. Oral sources, according to this new formulation, should not be “flattened by transcription,” with individual voices operating interchangeably. Rather, these sources should be heard with all of the personal, subjective, ambiguous, and contradictory inflections with which they circulate in practice. This emphasis on multiplicity, variability, and subjectivity represents a notable departure from earlier approaches to oral history that privileged “tradition” as a distinctive cultural form and, following a meticulous methodology pioneered by Jan Vansina, sought to sift their stable and verifiable elements from the flux of performances. Perspective and performance, once considered antithetical to the pursuits of professional historians working with oral sources, now occupy a privileged position in the analytical framework.