Oral History Project - Resource Guide
Your Interview Plan - from the Oral History Association's "Principles and Best Practices"
1). To prepare to ask informed questions, conduct background research on the person, topic, and larger context in both primary and secondary sources.
2). Oral historians should send an introductory letter (via email or postal mail) outlining the general focus and purpose of the interview, and then follow-up with either a phone call or a return email. In projects involving groups in which literacy is not the norm, or when other conditions make it appropriate, participation may be solicited via face to face meetings.
3). After securing the narrator’s agreement to be interviewed, schedule a non-recorded meeting, either in-person or virtually. This pre-interview session will allow an exchange of information between interviewer and narrator on:
- the oral history’s purposes and procedures in general and of the proposed interview’s aims and anticipated uses (be sure to mention the Institutional Repository).
-the length of the interview
-the need for informed consent
-his or her rights to the interviews including editing, access restrictions, copyrights, prior use, royalties, and the expected disposition and dissemination of all forms of the record, including the potential distribution electronically or on-line.
-that his or her recording(s) will remain confidential until he or she has given permission via a signed legal release.
4). Before the interview, get to know your equipment. Do a few trial runs and monitor the audio quality.
5). Prepare an outline of interview topics and questions to use as a guide to the recorded dialogue.
1). The interview should be conducted in a quiet room with minimal background noises and possible distractions. Close doors and windows, check that neither you nor your interviewee have clothing or jewelry that makes noise, and make sure that no one fidgets with clicking pens or other objects.
2). The interviewer should record a “lead” at the beginning of each session to help focus his or her and the narrator’s thoughts to each session’s goals. The “lead” should consist of, at least, the names of narrator and interviewer, day and year of session, interview’s location, and proposed subject of the recording.
3). Keep the following items in mind:
-interviewers should work to achieve a balance between the objectives of the project and the perspectives of the interviewees. Explore all appropriate areas of inquiry with interviewees and do not be satisfied with superficial responses. At the same time, encourage narrators to respond to questions in their own style and language and to address issues that reflect their concerns.
-respect the rights of interviewees to refuse to discuss certain subjects, to restrict access to the interview, or, under certain circumstances, to choose anonymity. Interviewers should clearly explain these options to all interviewees.
-you should attempt to extend the inquiry beyond the specific focus of the project to create as complete a record as possible for the benefit of others.
4). Secure a release form, by which the narrator transfers his or her rights to the interview to the repository or designated body, signed after each recording session or at the end of the last interview with the narrator.
1). Understand that appropriate care and storage of original recordings begins immediately after their creation.
2). Document your preparation and methods, including the circumstances of the interviews and provide that information to whatever repository will be preserving and providing access to the interview.
3). Collect photographs, documents, or other records and information relevant for the interpretation of the oral history by future users. Make clear to users the availability and connection of these materials to the recorded interview.
4). All those who use oral history interviews should strive for intellectual honesty and the best application of the skills of their discipline. They should avoid stereotypes, misrepresentations, and manipulations of the narrator’s words. This includes foremost striving to retain the integrity of the narrator’s perspective, recognizing the subjectivity of the interview, and interpreting and contextualizing the narrative according to the professional standards of the applicable scholarly disciplines. Finally, if a project deals with community history, the interviewer should be sensitive to the community, taking care not to reinforce thoughtless stereotypes. Interviewers should strive to make the interviews accessible to the community and where appropriate to include representatives of the community in public programs or presentations of the oral history material.
on Community and Tradition from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Readings in Oral History