Sound recordings capture part of the excitement of oral history. By listening to the narrators' and the interviewers' voices, we hear their passions and their fears. And their deceits. We hear the mystery of their silences. Oral history interviews almost always contain passages that fit uneasily with a narrator's story. Recordings allow us to overhear how those in the room confront or ignore the frictions. Reading the transcript of an interview is akin to reading a musical score. The composition's richness is greatly diminished when all we have is the black and white of notes and words.

In 2004, I organized a large oral history project in Cuba, the first of its kind since Oscar and Ruth Lewis's project was closed down in 1970.1 Our British-Cuban research team interviewed more than 120 women and men living on the island from different...

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