Current feminist theory, in validating women's own stories of their experience, has encouraged scholars of women's history to view the use of women's oral narratives as the methodology, next to the use of women's written autobiography, that brings historians closest to the "reality" of women's lives. Such narratives, unlike most standard histories, represent experience from the perspective of women, affirm the importance of women's contributions, and furnish present-day women with historical continuity that is essential to their identity, individually and collectively.
Scholars of women's history should, however, be as cautious about accepting oral narratives at face value as they already are about written memories. Oral narratives are no more likely than are written narratives to provide a disinterested commentary on events or people. Moreover, the stories people tell to explain themselves are shaped by narrative devices and storytelling conventions, as well as by other cultural and historical factors, in ways that the storytellers may be unaware of. The political rhetoric of a particular era, for example, may influence women's interpretations of the significance of their experience. Thus a woman who views the Second World War as pivotal in increasing the social acceptance of women's paid work outside the home may reach that conclusion partly and unwittingly because of wartime rhetoric encouraging a positive view of women's participation in such work.
The passage is primarily concerned with
contrasting the benefits of one methodology with the benefits of another
describing the historical origins and inherent drawbacks of a particular methodology
discussing the appeal of a particular methodology and some concerns about its use
showing that some historians' adoption of a particular methodology has led to criticism of recent historical scholarship
analyzing the influence of current feminist views on women's interpretations of their experience