The Achievements and Limitations of Researches That Make Use of Interviews for the History of Medicine in Korea
Korean Journal of Medical History (의사학), Vol.22(2) : 421~448, 2013
Korean Journal of Medical History (의사학)
An interesting aspect of the many recent researches on the history of medicine in Korea is a concentration on oral histories, a trend that is sure to supplement the lack of medical documents and historical materials covering the modern period. This trend will also contribute to the invention of new approaches in the historiography of medicine. Although the fragments of oral testimony cannot be expected to give a perfect representation of historical reality, such “slices of life” help represent history from the viewpoint of ordinary people and members of the medical profession who are less often acknowledged.
The recent researches that have taken oral testimony on the history of medicine in Korea have both racked up achievements as well as encountered limitations. First, many disciplines such as history, literature, cultural anthropology, folklore, sociology, and the history of medicine have used the technique of oral histories in the research approaches, and, especially since the start of the 2000s, have produced a variety of materials. The large amounts of raw materials published in these many disciplines are sure to bring even higher research achievements.
Second, for the most part, oral history researches in the medical profession have concentrated on second-tier practitioners, such as midwives, apothecaries, and acupuncturists, and the experiences of such untypical sufferers as lepers and victims of germ and atomic warfare. While the oral history of more prominent medical figures tends to underline his or her story of success, the oral histories of minority participants in the medical profession and patients can reveal the truth that has remained veiled until now. It is especially meaningful that these oral histories enable researchers to reconstruct history from below, as it were.
Third, the researches that take the oral history approach are intended to complement documentary records. Surprisingly, through being given the opportunity to tell their histories, the interviewees have frequently experienced the testimony as an act of self-healing. Formally, an oral history is not a medical practice, but in many cases the interviewee is able to realize his or her own identity and to affirm his or her own life’s story. It is in this light that we need to pay attention to the possibilities of such a humanistic form of therapy.
Finally, because the research achievements depend on oral materials, the objectivity and rationality of description take on an important research virtue. When conducting an oral history, the researcher partakes of a close relationship with interviewees through persistent contact and can often identify with them. Accordingly, the researcher needs to take care to maintain a critical view of oral materials and adopt an objective perspective over his or her own research object.