Oral history for beginners.
Truska Bast | July/August Issue 2012
1. Determine your central question. What is it you want to find out? Your interests will probably shift during the project, but make sure you have a focus. Delineate your territory to keep from getting bogged down. Also, ask yourself what you want to accomplish with your oral history.
2. Before you conduct an interview, gather as much information as you can about your topic. Read books, newspapers, magazines, websites and novels; watch films; visit museums.
3. Ask yourself the best way to record the interviews: with audio or video or by writing? With audio and video, you can listen to everything again before you have to write it out. Test the quality of your equipment beforehand.
4. Prepare your questions thoroughly. Determine themes and subthemes based on your central question and create a list of open questions that allow the interviewee to elaborate. Try to imagine the ideal line of questioning. Of course, things will usually go differently in the actual interview, but it provides a guide you can follow.
5. Start the interview with “safe” questions and save the more sensitive ones for later in the conversation. Ask one question at a time. Interrupt as little as possible. Allow silences to occur. Type up the interview and determine what’s still missing. Repeat steps 4 and 5 as necessary.
For more on oral history, click here.