The Oral History program was begun in 1976. Since then taped interviews with elders, Lamas and other religious figures, craftspeople, doctors and astrologers, story-tellers, traders and pilgrims have been recorded. Oral traditions are very susceptible to permanent loss should their transmission be interrupted. Some of the oral records archived are unique, traditionally passed only from one person to another. Nevertheless, they have been recorded to preserve them for the future.
This project is unique in documenting important aspects of folk culture in India and Tibet in the Tibetan language. The Department has transcribed some of its recordings, but as potential interviewees grow older and more fragile, priority has been given to recording their reminiscences. Most recordings are conducted by retired government employees and volunteers within the Tibetan refugee community.
The Department holds thousands of hours of teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; accounts of the journey from Tibet to India; Tibetan proverbs and stories; explanations of Tibetan healing methods; and descriptions of traditional dress, costumes and ornaments, songs and dances. The Department has embarked on developing a computerized catalogue of its recordings, as well as the production of printed transcripts and English translations of selected interviews.