The interview

The interview

  • give the person you are interviewing plenty of time to tell you what they think matters.
  • Don’t let the interview drift: it is your job to guide it
  • Group the topics you want to cover in a logical way. Often a chronological structure is best.
  • Do some research into the main historical events that may have effected the person’s life
  • There are some points to cover in every interview:
    • date and place of birth,
    • what their parents' and their own main jobs were.
    • begin with their earlier life: family background, grandparents, parents and brothers and sisters (including topics such as discipline)
    • then onto childhood home (housework, chores, mealtimes)
    • leisure (street games, gangs, sport, clubs, books, weekends, holidays, festivals)
    • politics and religion
    • schooling (key teachers, friends, favourite subjects)
    • early relationships
    • working life (first job, a typical working day, promotion, pranks and initiation, trade unions and professional organisations)
    • finally later family life (marriage, divorce, children, homes, money, neighbours, social life, hopes).
  • Do an overall plan for the interview
  • Look at the sample questions and plan an outline set to ask
  • Design open ended questions that let them tell their story in their own way
  • Both you and your interviewee will probably find talking for a couple of hours quite tiring, especially if the interviewee is elderly. Remember to take breaks. If a person has a lot to say, you may have to arrange to come back again for a second or possibly third interview
  • 2-3 hours is average for a life story interview. It can take more than one interview - one person’s life story, which was ultimately published, filled 26 hours of tape

How to do oral history

  1. What is oral history
  2. The interview
  3. Asking questions
  4. Recording answers
  5. Forms - useful ways of recording details
  6. Writing up
  7. Useful sources of information
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