Monday, October 19, 2015

Oral History

Andy Wilkinson - Artist in Residence Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library - Texas Tech University
I had the privilege to participate in an Oral History workshop in February conducted by Andy Wilkinson, Artist in Residence - Texas Tech University - Special Collections Library. I thought I'd share my notes about collecting oral history stories.

  • Record the interview, but take notes of what you might have a question about so you can go back to it. Try to use a digital recorder with stereo microphones and a data card. 
  • Make sure the controls stay in normal range
  • Ask if they already have previous recordings (made for or by others/family members) and try to get an agreement to have them digitized.
  • Record everything in migratable formats. 
  • Download and store in several formats.
  • A small digital recorder is more comfortable for the interviewer.
  • WAV file is archival format. 
  • Make sure your digital recorder records in WAV. 
  • Video when possible. 
  • The smaller the video equipment the better. 
  • Video and audio recording  is a two person job. 
  • Take photos!
  • Never erase, but offer to start over. "Just re-say it the way you want to say it."
  • Offer "Anytime you want to pause, we will pause."
  • Always get a release - but maybe not at the beginning of the interview if possible.
  • Make 2 copies and give one to the subject.
  • These interviews are not immune to subpoena. A good reason not to include your notes.
  • Have easy access, know where to find it.
  • Setting: conduct the interview in a comfortable environment - not a restaurant or a place where there is too much noise.
  • Interview around a topic or just let the person talk. The interviewee may also give a referral, someone with a different topic or perspective.
  • Group interview - not recommended although they are good for sparking memories.
  • Interview husbands and wives separately and together. 
  • Try and break every 2 hours.
This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to accompany Andy on six oral history interviews in conjunction with Fort Stockton's Fort Days. I was fascinated by how Andy put the subjects at ease. His knowledge of history facilitated the questioning process, and helped him make a connection with them. We had some great conversations about the process, about writing, and about research. I've asked Andy to guest post here soon with some interesting avenues of research.

Oral history interviews are something every family and community should consider.

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  1. Fascinating! I would've enjoyed that class!

  2. It was amazing. Learned some stuff about our community that I didn't know. People's lives are so interesting.