EDUCATOR'S GUIDE: INDIVISIBLE - Lesson
COLLECTING ORAL HISTORIES
This lesson offers "how-to" instructions
for creating an audio oral history. Oral histories are first-person narratives
collected to preserve and present information about a subject.
- Determine what subject (person,
place, thing, event, etc.) you would like to document.
- Contact the person you will be
interviewing in advance. Describe the purpose and nature of the interview,
the approximate time it will take, how the tape will be used and for what
purposes. Answer any questions the interviewee may have about the interview
process or the larger project. Observe sound conditions that may enhance or
interfere with your recording.
- Arrange for the interview. Agree
upon a quiet location where you won't be interrupted. The interviewee's home
or another familiar location works best. Arrange a date and time and telephone
the day before to remind the person of the session. lens.
CHALK development coordinator
Ruth Barajas, age 18, talks to her boyfriend during her shift at Youthline.
The Youth-line listeners say that many of the support calls are about
Silver dye bleach print
© Lauren Greenfield1999
- Search for information about your
subject. Consult with friends and relatives, read autobiographies, journals,
newspapers, and anything that might contribute to your understanding of your
subject. and the issues you will be discusssing
- Once you have determined the focus
of your interview (whether it is autobiographical recollections or confined
to a specific topic), you can begin to sketch out a question outline. Make
a list of what kind of questions you will need to ask to help define your
subject. Order your questions in an outline format to help you keep the interview
in the direction you want it to go.
- Sometimes the interviewee is given
a copy of the outline in advance of the interview. This will give him/her
time to think about people, events, and dates that are not in recent memory.
- Whenever possible bring materials
such as photographs and related information to assist the narrator with the
recall of past events.
- Just prior to the session, test
any tape-recording equipment you will use. If you use batteries, install fresh
ones. Bring at least one more blank tape and spare batteries than you think
- Read through your list and have
a notepad and pencil available.
Sam Davis, Columbia City
Council member and former president of Eau Claire Community Council
Gelatin silver print
© Eli Reed1999
- Start the session with easy
and enjoyable kinds of questions to overcome any initial discomfort. Remind
the interviewee that you can stop the session at any time if she needs a
- Speak slowly and clearly. Ask
open-ended questions that require more than a one-word answer. Start your
questions with words such as "why," "how," "where," "what kind of."
- Ask one question at a time.
Take your time and give the narrator a chance to think and add information
before moving on to your next question. Don't let periods of silence fluster
- Do not interrupt or speak at
the same time as your narrator. Develop non-verbal cues, such as nodding
your head, to communicate with or encourage your speaker, and write down
questions that come to mind and refer to them later.
- Become an active listener.
If your narrator strays into subjects that are not pertinent, steer him
back on course by referring to your list of questions as a guide. Also,
be aware that the narrator may answer some of your questions in the course
of the discussion. You need not specifically ask every question on your
- Write down names and places
and confirm spellings at the conclusion of the session. o If relevant, ask
about diaries, letters, photographs, or other kinds of materials related
to the subject that the narrator might wish to share with you.
- Keep alert for relevant topics
of interest that come up that you may not have thought of.
- End the interview at a reasonable
time. It's better to reschedule additional time, if necessary, if the narrator
seems tired. One to one-and-a half hours is a good length.
- Label your interview tape with
the date, the names of the narrator and interviewer, and the location of
the interview. o After the interview, be sure the narrator clearly understands
how the interview is to be used. Thank the narrator and any assistants.
- Collect and make copies of
any materials such as documents, letters, or photographs.
and Editing Narrative
Listen to the
tapes several times to decide what to transcribe. Take transcription notes
to help you decide which segments of the narrative to include in the oral
history. An interview transcription can be full, partial, or a list of keywords
or short descriptions accompanied by timing or tape numbers to approximate
their location in the interview. Choose the one that best suits your needs.
Listen to the
interview again to check your transcription notes and to decide which segments
of the narrative best tell your story.
- It is common practice to offer
a taped or written copy of the oral history to the narrator for comments,
corrections, and suggestions.
- Thank your interviewee and others
who helped you or provided information.
LINK TO EXAMINING LESSON
This page last updated September 24, 2000. firstname.lastname@example.org
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