Two paradigmatic schools are presently exploring twentieth century accounting history. Conventional historians typically examine archival data to determine the origin and development of modern accounting practices. Alternatively, more critical scholars often question the motives of accountants and managers in the design, collection, and use of this same data. Although each school has a different primary objective, both focus on documented events and both usually ignore the more personal, human side of history — the attitudes and perceptions of accountants, managers, and workers regarding accounting numbers and reports.

This undocumented, human aspect of accounting history is best revealed through oral history interviews. This paper initially discusses the benefits and limitations of oral history interviews. It then includes examples from a recently completed oral history project to illustrate how recollections about the past help illuminate aspects of twentieth century cost accounting history that neither conventional nor critical historians have clearly revealed. The paper concludes by identifying three current accounting topic areas that appear befitting of oral history investigations.

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