For several decades Studs Terkel captured the voices of everyday people. On the radio and through his books, Terkel provided a platform for common men and women to share their memories. Terkel’s oral histories contain thousands of interviews on a variety of subjects, but are organized with the clear intent to deliver a historical narrative and argument. How should we understand Studs Terkel? How should we view the work that he has done? And is he a historian, or simply a storyteller? To many, the answer is obvious that Studs Terkel was a gifted oral historian. Critics allege that his oral histories are more entertainment than history, and that Terkel himself should be titled a bard. Some have argued that Terkel and his works are manipulative and biased due to the overwhelming presence of his personal political beliefs. This study reconciles these views on Studs Terkel through three major evaluations: first, a survey of Terkel’s life, then a close examination of his popular and scholarly reception, and finally an analysis of two of his major works. Through this procedure, this Independent Study argues that Studs Terkel was an important historian of the 20th century who possessed a remarkably innovative model of oral history in order to capture a massive audience beyond the scholarly realm. Furthermore, Terkel’s ability to reach the wide public had an immeasurable impact on American discourse. By classifying him as a historian, his works continue to possess the educational weight they deserve.


Shaya, Gregory




Oral History | Public History | United States History


Studs Terkel, History, Oral History, America, Labor, World War Two, Methodology

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2018 Ian D. Weissman