ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Value of Story Telling - Anthropology. Written Vs. Oral Histories

Updated on June 11, 2019

The importance of cultural histories and stories

All cultures pass on a social history through stories. Some cultures do this orally through verbal story telling while others adopted the written word early on. These histories and stories are embedded in their cultures to the extent that the culture and the stories cannot be separated; they are a reflection of one another. Within the stories the social beliefs and morality of the society are contained and social lessons are taught. All societies have such tales:

Scotland has a tale that most natives will know of Robert the Bruce seeing a spider making a web and failing repeatedly but always trying again spawning the motivating phrase ‘try, try, try again’ which ‘motived’ Robert the Bruce to continue his battle.

Christianity has adopted a tale of Santa Clause (and various other names) in which a man watches childrens behaviour throughout the year and judges whether they are worthy of gifts at Christmas.

Many of these tales are wrapped up in a history that is more reflective of a real history. The line between history and mythology are rather muddied over time. Characters such as Robin Hood are ambiguous in their mythological vs. historical status. Society chooses the stories that it retells over time. The adaptability of these stories to changing times though can be a consequence of whether it is an oral history or a written history – oral history is far easier to alter to modern standards and expectations than written yet written can be considered more ‘accurate’ depending on the validity and necessity to be accurate. Anthropology looks at these histories and their value when studying cultures as these histories are so intrinsically valuable to societies and act to create and enforce the beliefs of the culture. Below are some anthropological takes on Oral and Written histories.


Cruikshank describes how, while history is everywhere, only certain stories gain purchase. Cruikshank claims that only certain stories from history gain purchase and that this is due to their representation and re-enforcement of culturally appropriate behaviour. He also argues that extensive written accounts from administrative authorities are able to outweigh local oral narrative. This is despite the fact that these written accounts do not, as is often perceived, contain a fuller or any more objectively reliable account. Both written and oral narrative act to convey conventional social ideals of perfect behaviour; only the context of interpretation alters in these narratives as each invokes their own social system. These stories which gain purchase are those which are best able to display those ideals of the society in which they are told.



Ridington’s investigation of written account of Native American spiritual traditions comes to a similar conclusion as Cruikshank. Ridington finds that spiritual traditions are indigenous to the land and the peoples; creating a cosmic order within which the world realises its meaning. This would be near impossible to convey in written form as understanding requires a complete understanding of the world and culture which seems to be only possible to gain through experience. Western styles of story telling use a monologue; Judeo-Christian creation stories for example present a single given story repeated almost identically over time. Native Americans however use a greater dialogue style; traditions flowing from discourse and altering slightly over time rather than the Judeo-Christian single minded tradition of right and wrong advocating conversion to this dogma. Ethnographic studies inevitably convey the writers bias and is always framed in Western ideas of religion, science and spirituality. These ethnographies are also invariably written as monologues which fails to convey the communication necessary between the cultures for understanding.


DeLoria further claims that the Western ideas of correct scientific method actually fails to consider many useful aspects and possible information of the world around. The Western belief that humans societies seek knowledge devoid of superstition seems overruled by modern tribal societies. These societies don’t seem to wish to remove themselves and their knowledge from nature, instead they seem aware of rhythms that scientific people cannot understand. DeLoria argues that tribal ways represent a complete logical alternative to Western science, not a lesser more primitive means. Tribal methods can even be considered superior in that no data is wasted; while Western science discards failed study, tribal knowledge continues to grow and learn from all of these experiences. Tribal societies also manage to mix facts which western science would divide into distinct categories.



Generally, it seems to be that tribal understandings and portrayals of the world need to be better respected and understood by Western cultures. The Western ideals are not unequivocally the correct and most useful means of recording and gathering knowledge and information and this needs to be understood. As is often the case Western societies take a very ethnocentric view in which there is a belief that the Westen world is more 'advanced' and has made the more logical and reasonable choices. This notion is flawed greatly and resides in the belief that there is an ultimate advancement that humans are trudging towards over time and it is the advancements that the Western world has decided to aim for. In reality there is no ultimate goal and all peoples and societies in the world have advanced over time to adapt to their reality and to suit there cultural needs and wants. The Western choices are not superior or more accurate. Often human nature is shunned, overlooked or undervalued by Western academics. The social nature of people and the persistence of oral story telling reinforces that is a natural feature of humanity. The written word is not intrinsically superior and in fact has flaws in that it does not allow for adapting morality. This can be reflected in religious texts throughout the world where it becomes the full time job of heads of religion to marry the written text to modern reality and morality. Ultimately, written history is regarded are superior by Western societies and academic research but oral histories should not be wholly overlooked as within even western societies these oral stories have a place and to disregard their validity is to overlook an intrinsic feature of human nature and social interactions.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)