Oral Histories Interviews

April 9th, 2009

We were at a history meeting recently and once again the subject of how to do oral interviews came up.  The need for personal points of view on community, regional and national events add depth to our interpretation of our local historical places and biographies.    As historians, we want to encourage oral histories as part our research but they are hard to arrange and it sometimes takes time to develop interviewing skills and relevant questions so the interviews stay focused.

There are a few good books on the subject and the Northwest Oral History Association maintains a good list of web pages for more examples of projects and how to information.

The key points are to make sure you have permissions signed for the appropriate use of the interview, ie. can they be broadcast or published, used in exhibit captions, or just preserved.  And in spite of new digital technologies, it is always preferable to transcribe them, a daunting task for the casual interviewer.  And do as much research about the person as possible to be prepared with good questions that make the interview a worthwhile effort.

–Karen Prasse, League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations

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