Blog post 14 -The White House as a Black Box: Oral History and the Problem of Evidence in Presidential Studies by Russell L. Riley

In this article, Riley discusses the White House by using the metaphor of the “black box” (Riley 187) to describe the affairs that are performed within it. Riley discusses in relation to that on how oral history can be help in understanding the history of US presidents, but also talks about its limits. He argues that in using oral history through using interviews, it can be beneficial towards knowing more on the function within the White House and the presidency. Riley first goes into detail on the primary sources that can be acquired in studying the White House such as documents discussing its performance. One example that is given is the Executive Order 13233 that made by President George Bush after 9/11 had happened. This order restricted the amount of information coming in and out of the White house. This caused controversy in the public to the point that this order was then later removed. Riley then discusses the benefits of using oral history in relation to studying the White House and the US presidency. One of the benefits that Riley points out is that it fills in the empty spaces when looking at a written source on the White house. One example of this is the oral history project done by historian Charles T. Morrissey that made interviews in helping give more of a understanding to Truman’s presidency. However, there are limitations to using oral history as memory isn’t perfect. Memory can “fade over time” (Riley 200) and be distorted which can lead to limitations when doing interviews. Riley near the end of the article points out the usefulness of oral history and how it works differently to how evidences gain in relation to studying a specific US president. This article is overall pretty interesting in understanding the limits and benefits in oral history. It also give me more of a better understanding of oral history from what I previously knew.

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