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Oral History


Locating Narrators 

Making Contact

Research - 8-10 hours on individual (life, career, important events), topics surrounding the individual.  Be sure to identify and look through news clippings, articles, CVs, genealogy, personal or institutional websites, archival collections, etc.

Pre-Interview Meeting - set up a time to speak with the narrator.  Learn more about their life through this conversation.  This is the time for you to build rapport with the narrator. 

  • Go over what the narrator can expect during the interview (i.e. first we’ll do a life history, then we’ll focus on Trinity). Provide the narrator with the general question outline but explain that topics and questions change from person to person. 
  • Explain to them how the interview will take place (i.e. either through Zoom or in-person) and what that looks like. 
  • Emphasize the interview should take place in a safe space - a place where they are comfortable and feel free to share about themselves. 
  • The narrator has the right to ask questions about the interview topics and decide if there are areas they do not want to discuss. 
  • Share with them a copy of the deed-of-gift form. They have the right to ask questions about the deed-of-gift form and you should be able to provide answers for them. 
  • Decide on a date and time for the interview.  Be sure to allot 3-4 hours of time for one interview.

Finalize - make any adjustments to the question and topic outline.  Set up the Zoom meeting and share the link if the interview is remote.  Test your recording equipment and make sure you have backup tools at hand.  Confirm a couple days before that the interview is still on.



Come prepared - If you are doing an in-person interview, be sure to have the audio recorder, mic cover, SD card, batteries and plug, extension cord, power strip, stand/tripod, back up recorder, forms, notebook, interview outline, something to write with, some to keep track of the time, tissues, water, snacks, and camera to capture photo of the narrator (or have them provide a recent photo). 

If you are doing a remote interview, be sure to have your Zoom link set, it is generating a transcript, it is set to record, back up recorder, forms, notebook, interview outline, something to write with, some to keep track of the time.

Set the space - If you are doing an in-person interview, be sure that you and the narrator are about 4-6 feet apart with the recorder in the middle, to the side.  The recorder should be secured on the tripod to avoid movement sound.  The mic cover should be placed on the recorder.  The SD card and batteries should be inserted into the recorder.  Attach the power plug to the recorder and find an outlet (use the extension cord and power strip if needed) for plug in.  Turn the recorder on and prepare for recording. Have the backup recorder ready.

If you are doing a remote interview, be sure to log into Zoom and make sure the settings are correct.  Check your mic and video.  Check your background.  Have the backup recorder ready.  Ask the narrator to do the same.  Explain to the narrator that you will be taking notes and periodically checking to make sure the recording equipment is working. 

Record - Once you and the narrator are ready to start the interview press the record button on the recorder or on Zoom.  Start with your introductory statement:

“This is an interview for the [Project].  I am [interviewer] and today I am interviewing [narrator] on [date] at [location] in [city,state].”

Proceed to give a brief purpose of the interview:

“Today we are interviewing [narrator] to learn more about the [topic].  [Narrator] if we could begin by....”

Remember to listen deeply and actively.  Take notes, but remain focused on what the narrator is saying.  Be preparing follow-up questions as the narrator shares with you.  Remember to check recording equipment periodically.

When it feels like the interview is winding down, remember to ask the narrator if there is anything else they would like to add before you end the conversation.


Saving and Protecting Files

Once you have returned from the interview the first thing you should do is transfer files from the recorder.  Visit the Archiving Oral History tab for help on naming conventions, making copies, and where to save files.


Summarize and send a generous thanks

It's important to decompress after an interview.  However, it is also necessary to compile any field notes you wrote and your own reflections of the interview shortly after the interview is completed.  Be sure to send a thank you note to the narrator for their time and sharing of their life experiences.




Remote Interviewing Resources

Oral History Association - OHA Remote Interviewing Resources

Oral History Society - Advice on Interviewing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Baylor University Institute for Oral History - Interviewing at a Distance: Remote Interviewing Webinar

UC Berkeley Oral History Center - Remote Interviewing for Zoom