The readings chosen reveal a number of parallels and variations in oral descriptions of historical events. Annie Battiste and Elisabeth Van Houts describe how oral history records are transmitted from one person to another by different mediums, and how these mediums explain the validity, credibility, and consistency of the historical facts and events found therein. This article would analyze the actual events mentioned by the two writers in order to explain the parallels and variations in the oral history accounts found in their works.
Annie Battiste draws on the oral histories of a Mi’kmaq family surviving before slavery. Using the narrations from Annie and Marie, we get to understand how life was during the historical period. Of importance is the level of detail involved in the narration. We get to understand the way of life of ordinary citizens, their schooling, working, and social lives. Family relationships, as well as religious and social functions, are described in detail, especially when the author makes reference to Catholic schools, the difference between Indian and the White race relations, as well as the work that was available to white people and the Indian Mi’kmaqs.
In a similar fashion, Elisabeth Van Houts brings personal accounts of historical events through information contained in historical chronicles. Unlike Annie, Elisabeth begins by defending the authenticity of the oral accounts of history contained in the narratives that she makes reference to. The idea behind her need to support the authenticity of the reports contained in the chronicles is informed by the fact that historical information is prone to distortion, loss, and other various forms of inaccuracies. As a result, other than delving into the historical information, Elisabeth describes the different kinds of chronicle information and provides the criteria through which their authenticity can be ascertained.
According to Elisabeth, any personal accounts of a historical event can only be authenticated depending on the source of the information. This brings the need to differentiate between information acquired through witnessing, hearing, oral transmission, stories, songs, ballads, poems, and so forth. In essence, Elisabeth opines that all oral historical information should be looked through the lenses of the reliability of the source of the information. This implies that a story such as the one told by Annie and Marie regarding the historical events at their time was questionable because it would be difficult to ascertain the source of information.
Social Standing and Oral History
Annie Battiste’s story describes the problems her family and herself faced while trying to acquire an education. By the time Annie was ten years old, she was forced to go back to grade one because the Catholic school in which she had been enrolled did not teach her well. Also, she recalls of how poorly she was treated during her schooling life at the Catholic school. This is a damning implication on the quality of education that was being offered by the Catholic schools. The veracity of these sentiments cannot be authenticated independently. Nonetheless, Annie describes how hard it was for her to get an education, and how hard it was for her parents to get an education. In fact, both her parents were illiterate by the time she was an adult.
Elisabeth Van Houts paints a different picture regarding oral history and education. She propounds the notion that oral history was for the aristocracy. The clergy, nobility, and high-ranking members of the community are the only people who could offer oral history accounts. Lay people lacked the standing to offer historical accounts, especially because, as was in Annie’s narration, they were not learned. The clergy (such as monks), the nobility (such as kings’ advisors), and other high standing members of the society wrote chronicles depicting historical events. The only instance in which lay people could offer historical information that could be put in Chronicles was when the nobility accounts of the same historical information were not instrumental in the story being told. Elisabeth gave an example of a soldier’s tale regarding a battle, which would be more instrumental being told by the foot soldier as compared to the king’s advisors who was not on the battlefield. In contrast, Annie’s narration does discriminate on the source of information. Her historical accounts contain a mix of ordinary as well as high-standing members of the community.
Gender and Oral History
Annie Battiste and Marie Battiste, both women, give detailed accounts of their life and the historical events during their youth until they became adults. They describe historical events such as how the government evicted their families from their homesteads, the tactics used during the evictions, the effects of the evictions on their family and social lives, as well as the reactions that the community had on different historical events. For instance, Annie describes the events that led to her being taken to the Catholic school. She also describes the relationship between her dad and the French people living in Nova Scotia. In telling her story, Annie makes references to information from third parties, hearsay information, as well as her eyewitness accounts of some of the information in her story.
In contrast, Elisabeth makes a distinction in the role the women played in history. According to Elisabeth, the women did not have a major role in the writing of the Chronicles of history largely because the nobility, clergy, and high standing members of the communities were men. Also, cultural values at the time did not give women a voice concerning historical events. Elisabeth does not mention the level of education that the women had, but she makes reference to the fact the most educated people at the time were the clergy, and due to the prevailing cultural beliefs at the time, the clergy mainly consisted of men.
Historical information is only as important as the source from which it comes. This fact is premised on the fact that historical accounts are prone to bias, loss, miscommunication, and the lack of documentation, among other things that would affect its authenticity. It is, therefore, of importance to record accurate historical facts. However, even as the facts get recorded, it suffices to note that no source takes precedence over the other especially concerning oral historical documents, since a layperson may have just as good a grasp of historical facts as a nobleman. The historical accounts depicted in the readings demonstrate that historical accounts can be told in different ways by different kinds of people, but remain as valuable or otherwise as the case may be.
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