Oral history resources

Editor’s note: I’ve left the dead links in this article intact as a way of capturing a snapshot of resources available at the time.

By Susan Kitchens, Family Oral History
and Jennifer Myronuk, Storyfield

Oral history can take the form of audio, video or multimedia storytelling with sounds and photos. What’s important is that you begin recording the stories of people important to you — family members, loved ones, friends and community members who have done something interesting, or even remarkable. (We all have!)

Here are some resources to get you on your way:

Oral history: Getting started

Oral History Association. With a list of Regional Centers centers and collections worldwide (see who’s doing oral history close to you).

Evaluation Guidelines. The document describing standards and ethics for oral historians. The maxim, Do your work well and treat others with respect is broken down into specific topics, such as responsibiltiies to interviewees, the public, and archival institutions. The Project Guidelines section is a good mental checklist for planning an oral history project.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools. Family stories: record them, transfer to your computer, create digital archive disks. Discussing how-tos, tools, techniques.

Interviewing

Storycorps Question Generator. Designed for interviews in one of the Storycorps booths, the question generator can be used by anyone to help "think up" good questions to ask someone for an interview. Compose some of your own questions, then select some questions from the ones provided. Questions will appear in a web page for printing and they’ll send them to you in an email.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools has a category on interviewing. All the resources named here, plus discussion of other aspects about interviewing, book reviews, thoughts, etc.

Baylor University’s Oral History Workshop on the Web. Has several excellent resources, including Principles for Family Oral History, a one-page 10-point plan, and The Heart of Oral History: How to Interview, a short page with a link to a PDF of a chapter, "How To Interview," written by Thomas L. Charlton for his text, Oral History for Texans. Highly recommended no matter where you live.

The Remembering Site, a guide to life story and autobiography, founded by D.G. Fulford, co-author of To Our Children’s Children (see books, below). Emphasis is in written story; site allows for writing, photo uploads, etc. Membership has a one-time $25 fee, and more questions than you could ever think of answering. But there’s a page of sample questions to whet your appetite.

Veterans History Project (WW1, WW2, Korean War, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan/Iraq). Tons of good information and resources. Are you interviewing family members or friends who are vets? Check this out.

The site includes Interview Tips and Resources that are useful to anyone.

Preservation

Long Now Foundation. Because digital lasts forever, or five years … whichever comes first. The 10,000-year clock and other extremely long-term thinking.

Ten-thousand year blog by David Mattison. Digital archiving. Thinking long term. Following current events in museums and archives and digital technology. Serving up information since 2003.

Books

Doing Oral History by Donald Ritchie, Senate Historian.
Definitive. Authoritative. Excellent for group efforts by academic and historical institutions. Some of the book will be overkill for personal use.

To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford.
A book of questions and remembering prompts. Designed for personal autobiography, the questions can be adapted for oral history interviews. They’re designed to pull out sensory details in reminiscence. Notable sights, smells. Fulford is founder of The Remembering Site, listed above.

At your local library

These books are out of print but still way useful:

The Tape Recorded Interview by Edward Ives.
The distillation of over two decades of a folklorist and oral historian. Thorough description of all stages of interview, from preparation, the interview itself, and afterwards. Plus equipment how-to: the instructions for the (portable reel-to-reel) tape recorder are anachronistic bliss! Friendly tone; Lots of good advice: "Think of the microphone as a representative of a number of people … who … are extremely interested in what is being talked about."

Talking Your Roots by William Fletcher.
Excellent source for interview questions covering all aspects of life. Friendly hand-holding: "Be easy on yourself." "You can’t do a bad interview." Get thee to the library and check it out!

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JD Lasica
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