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Oral History Workshop. History 300B March 9, 2009. Center for Oral & Public History California State University, Fullerton http://coph.fullerton.edu/ . 9/11, war . Event Evidence Survival Repositories Access. Newspapers, diaries, photographs. Fires, floods, thrown away.

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oral history workshop

Oral History Workshop

History 300B

March 9, 2009

Center for Oral & Public History

California State University, Fullerton



9/11, war






Newspapers, diaries, photographs

Fires, floods, thrown away

Archives, libraries, museums, person collections

Must be available

what is oral history
What is Oral History?

Valerie Yow: Oral history is the recording of personal testimony delivered in oral form.

Donald Ritchie: collection of spoken memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews.

From Internet (Answers.com): Historical information, usually tape-recorded or videotaped, obtained in interviews with persons having firsthand knowledge.

Terms often used interchangeably with oral history: self-report, personal narrative, life story, memoir, life testament.

Other terms used: life history, recorded memories, life review. (implies someone else involved)

why is oral history important
Why is Oral History Important?
  • historical documents and books can't tell us everything about our past.
  • often concentrate on famous people and big events, and tend to miss the ordinary people living ordinary lives.
  • Neglect people on the fringes of society, e.g., the poor, disabled, ethnic communities.
  • Oral history fills the gaps and gives voice to history that includes everyone.
oral history and memory
Oral History and Memory
  • Remembering – Constructing Narratives from our Memories
    • Even young children create stories from their memories
    • Psychologist David Rubin shows that most people begin reminiscing in their forties.
    • We remember what is important to us.
  • Memory – Fallible or Trustworthy?
  • Aging and Memory
  • Consistencies in Feelings
  • Individual Memory v. Collective Memory
  • Whenever memory is involved, we need to ask: by whom, in what context?
legal stuff
Legal Stuff
  • Copyright
    • Who owns the material?
    • Legal agreements
  • Libel
    • Libel is the published statement that is false and that is intended to harm a person’s reputation.
    • Cannot libel someone who is deceased.
  • Slander
    • Defamation that is spoken.
  • Anonymity
    • Make copy of tape and include pseudonym
  • Ack! What if they won’t sign the release?
a few more forms
A Few More Forms
  • IRB
  • Deed of Gift
  • Restriction Agreement

(we’ll talk about these a little bit more as they appear in the packet.)

ethics and privacy
Ethics and Privacy
  • No taping without narrator’s knowledge
    • Recording without narrator’s knowledge is invasion of privacy
    • Doesn’t hurt to get narrator’s permission on tape
  • Explain why and how oral histories will be used
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Interviewers and transcribers must understand: this is confidential until completed.
  • Remind narrators that information will be made public
    • Revealing too much about personal life
    • Revealing too much about ANOTHER person’s life
before you proceed
Before You Proceed
  • Acquaint yourself with Oral History Association
  • Check out other professional organizations
  • Work with instructor or supervising entity
  • Read, read, read!
preparing for oral history project
Preparing for Oral History Project
  • Do your homework – Research!
    • Are there similar projects? Are we offering new information?
  • Conceptualize the project
    • What is it that we wish to accomplish? Focus
    • How do we finance this project? This interview?
    • Interviewing, Transcribing, Archiving
interview steps
Interview Steps
  • Identify narrators
    • Letter of introduction
  • Research
    • People’s lives do not take place in a vacuum
    • Prepare for pre-interview
  • Develop questions/outline
  • Recorders - Equipment
  • Analog tape v. digital files
    • Magnetic tape still viewed as most stable
    • Commitment to digital files
  • Recorder
  • Microphone
  • Tapes
preparation is the key
Preparation is the Key
  • Equipment
  • Questions/outline
  • Directions
  • Release forms
  • Prompts
  • Review your checklist
  • Know your narrator
agreement form s
Agreement Form(s)
  • Do YOU understand it?
  • Can you explain it?
  • Keep it visible
  • Ask narrator to sign AFTER interview
more forms
More Forms!
  • Labeling Cassette
  • Creating Field Notes
  • Creating Tape Log
and still more
And, Still More!
  • Deed of Gift
    • Understanding nature of use
  • Restriction
    • What’s reasonable?
    • Role of rapport
    • “It’s just my family.”
developing questions
Developing Questions
  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • How
  • Why
  • How did you feel?
  • Introduction – on tape
    • Narrator name, interviewer name, date, where interview is taking place, project name
    • Verbal agreement
  • Biographical sketch
    • Parents, earlier years, schooling, adulthood
  • “Meat” of the interview
  • Closing remarks
    • “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
  • Opened-ended v. closed-ended questions

 What do you remember about your grandparents?

 What was your grandfather’s name?

 What kind of reception did the Cambodians receive when they moved into town?

 Was there prejudice against Cambodians moving to your town?

more questions
More Questions
  • Childhood
  • Teens
  • Family
  • Military
  • Vocation
  • Marriage/Family
  • Religion
  • Attitudes/beliefs
  • Retirement
  • Historic events
  • Folklore, superstitions, customs, holidays, celebrating
post oral history what do we do now
Post-Oral HistoryWhat do we do now?
  • Publications
  • Theatrical productions
  • Museum exhibits
  • Document events, businesses, community
  • Identify artifacts and photographs
  • Add to the historic record