Africa at Noon on September 9, 2015

New Perspectives on Oral Traditions in History

Jan Vansina
J.D. McArthur and Vilas Research Professor Emeritus, History and Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Download Poster (pdf)

Time and Location

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI


Recent research about memory processes shows that we should no longer lump together all oral evidence – or even only all oral traditions – as a single kind of source of history because they are produced by two different processes of remembering. Traditions are easily separated into two different sets and reordering them as such leads to a greatly improved critical treatment of oral source and hence to a considerable increase in their reliability as evidence.


Jan Vansina is a retired historian and anthropologist of Africa best known for his contributions to the study of oral traditions and to African history.