LIRT Oral Histories

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Oral History Resources

Books

Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide, Donald A. Ritchie, 2003

The Oral History Manual, Barbara W. Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan, 2009

Transcribing and Editing Oral History, Willa K. Baum, 1991

Sites

Berkeley Regional Oral History Office

The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) conducts, teaches, analyzes, and archives oral and video history documents in a broad variety of subject areas critical to the history of California and the United States. ROHO also provides a forum for students and scholars working with oral sources to deepen the quality of their research and to engage with the theory, methodology, and meaning of individual testimony and social memory.

Capturing Our Stories Project

Capturing Our Stories, one of Loriene Roy's 2007/2008 ALA Presidential Initiatives, is a national oral history program to gather life histories of experienced librarians as they exit their careers.

Center for the Study of History and Memory

The Center for the Study of History and Memory is a grant-funded research center that is dedicated to building upon our work in the field of oral history while broadening the range of our research projects to address the many ways that people remember, represent, and use the past in public and private life.

Best Practices for Oral History

(reprinted with permission from The Oral History Association, edited - read original)

Pre-Interview

  1. First time interviewers and others involved in oral history projects should seek training to prepare themselves for all stages of the oral history process.
  2. Make contact with an appropriate repository that has the capacity to preserve the oral histories and make them accessible to the public.
  3. Choose potential narrators based on the relevance of their experiences to the subject at hand.
  4. Conduct background research on the person, topic, and larger context in both primary and secondary sources
  5. Send an introductory letter outlining the general focus and purpose of the interview, and then follow-up with either a phone call or a return email.
  6. Schedule a non-recorded meeting to allow an exchange of information between interviewer and narrator on possible questions/topics, reasons for conducting the interview, the process that will be involved, and the need for informed consent and legal release forms.
  7. Use the best digital recording equipment within their means to reproduce the narrator’s voice accurately and, if appropriate, other sounds as well as visual images. Become familiar with the equipment and be knowledgeable about its function.
  8. Prepare an outline of interview topics and questions to use as a guide to the recorded dialogue.


Interview

  1. The interview should be conducted in a quiet room with minimal background noises and possible distractions.
  2. 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.
  3. Agree to the approximate length of the interview in advance.
  4. Ask creative and probing questions and listen to the answers to ask better follow-up questions.
  5. Secure a release form, by which the narrator transfers his or her rights to the interview to the repository or designated body.

Post Interview

  1. Understand that appropriate care and storage of original recordings begins immediately after their creation.
  2. Document 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. Information deemed relevant for the interpretation of the oral history by future users should be collected, and archivists should make clear to users the availability and connection of these materials  to the recorded interview.
  4. Recordings of the interviews should be stored, processed, refreshed and accessed according to established archival standards designated for the media format used. All efforts should be made to preserve electronic files in formats that are cross platform and nonproprietary. The obsolescence of all media formats should be assumed and planned for.
  5. Repositories should make transcriptions, indexes, time tags, detailed descriptions or other written guides to the contents.
  6. Institutions should honor the stipulations of prior agreements made with the interviewers or sponsoring institutions.
  7. The repository should comply to the extent to which it is aware with the letter and spirit of the interviewee’s agreement with the interviewer and sponsoring institution.
  8. 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.

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