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Oral History Resources

Doing Oral History

Professional Guides

Remote Interviewing

The Department of Oral History encourages remote interviewing during the COVID-19 pandemic. While not ideal circumstances for oral history interviews, implementing distance technology for audio and/or video recordings can contribute to safe interviewing practices.

Online Resources
Projects on COVID-19

Basic Methodology and Interviewing Tips

Support Storytelling

The information sought in oral history work is best obtained by supporting interviewees in the telling of their stories. Oral histories should not be dry recitations of facts, but engaging remembrances of the interviewee's experiences and insights.

  • Frame questions to encourage, not dampen, the interviewee in their recollections.
  • Cast yourself as the student, eager to learn what the interviewee wishes to impart, not the investigative reporter, trying to pin down the facts.
Silence as a Tool

If the interviewee pauses, don't jump in immediately with another question. The interviewee may be connecting what they've just said to some other thought that is related and important.

Role of the Interviewer

Remember that your job as the interviewer is to guide the interviewee, not to be a participant in a conversation. Your voice should be heard sparingly, and the best way to achieve that is to think carefully about what questions to ask, how to word the questions to get the fullest response, and in what order to ask the questions (flow of the interview).

Location, Location, Location

Choose a place that is quiet with minimal distractions. DO NOT conduct interviews in public places, such as restaurants or cafes. Be aware of open windows, slamming doors, kitchen noises, utensils, squeaky chairs, fans and air conditioners, pet birds, traffic, open spaces and high ceilings that cause echo sounds, etc.

How to Ask Questions

It is often how you ask the question that accounts for the richness of the answer. Always try to keep in mind that the person you're interviewing knows more about their life and connection to the subject than you do, and if you give them sufficient berth with your questions, they will often provide information on matters you couldn't anticipate.