Vol. 17 No. 2 (2013): Journal of Nursing Pensar Enfermagem

Oral history: in search of a tool for historical research in Nursing

Maria Emília Bulcão Macedo Mendonça
Professora Adjunta, Mestre, Escola Superior de Enfermagem do Porto
Ana Paula Santos Jesus Marques França
Professora Coordenadora, Professora Doutora, Escola Superior de Enfermagem do Porto

Published 2013-12-30


  • oral history,
  • methodology,
  • history of nursing

How to Cite

Bulcão Macedo Mendonça, M. E., & Santos Jesus Marques França, A. P. (2013). Oral history: in search of a tool for historical research in Nursing. Pensar Enfermagem, 17(2), 9–25. https://doi.org/10.56732/pensarenf.v17i2.80


Oral History has its origins in the New History movement, in the mid-twentieth century. Since it’s first appearance it has generated discussions among researchers who question whether it can be considered methodology, technique, knowledge source or discipline. However, it has gained importance as a means of research, overcoming the resistance of traditional historiography.

According to Thompson, Oral History is a story built around people, in which, through oral transmission, it is possible to transmit the knowledge found in human memory, which is fundamental for the understanding of the recent past. This paper’s aim is to be a theoretical-methodological reflection about Oral History, and to understand the approaches, limits and possibilities of its use in the production of knowledge, namely in the history of nursing. A review of the literature is herein presented, based on the main theoretical references produced in the field of Oral History. New History followers advocate Oral History as a methodology, based on a project’s guiding research. This method requires us to take into account its specificity in relation to the selection of participants, data collection (preparation, execution and interview recording), and the analysis and (re)construction of the narrative, as well as its limitations and ethical considerations. Using Oral History we can produce knowledge about nurses, the people under their care,
the day-to-day of the profession, and the nursing subject. We conclude that framing Oral History as a research methodology is suitable for nursing research and can be used by nurses who are interested in seeking as yet undocumented information in the experience of individuals, which may lead to an improvement in the practice of nursing in the future.


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