Oral history is history told through the spoken word. It involves
finding out people who lived through something you want to study. For
example, you could study the life of soldiers in World War II by
interviewing veterans of that war. In this activity, you will want to
interview older persons about what they did for fun when they were young.
For some examples of oral interviews, see the Library of Congress website at www.lcweb2loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html
Finding Interviewees: First, of course, you have to find some old people to interview. The most obvious place to start is your own family. Are your
grandparents alive? Do they live nearby or can you reach them by phone.
If not, try a local nursing home. Ask the people who run a nursing home in
your neighborhood if you can interview some of the senior citizens who live
Arranging Interviews: Before you begin, there are several things to do
first. Talk to the person you want to interview--the interviewee--in
advance. Tell them what you want to talk about. That will get them
thinking about the old days. Also, ask them if they have any old pictures
or other things from that time. Nothing jogs the memory like artifacts.
If they don't have anything, you might want to bring a few copies of photos
you found in old books too. These can help spark memories.
Prepare For The Interview:
Next, read up as much as you can about the subject. This will help you
think of questions to ask. Second, make a list of questions in advance.
You don't have to stick to them. The person you are interviewing may have
interesting things to say about questions you don't ask. But they will
help you cover the subject and keep the interview focused. Remember, to
keep the questions focused on personal memories. Oral history is best at
capturing the mood and feel of times past; its less useful for factual
information. After all, people's memory can play tricks on them. We tend
to remember feelings and experiences more than facts.
Things To Bring: A tape recorder, tapes and batteries. You might also want to bring a camera to take pictures.
Doing The Interview: Once you arrive, make the interviewee comfortable.
Find a nice quiet place and make sure you both have plenty of time to talk.
Don't go right into the interview. Chat a little first without turning on
the tape recorder. Then begin with a general question. Let the person
answer your question fully before asking the next. Don't forget to get
basic information about your interviewee: name, age, where they were born,
what they did for a living then or where they went to school, etc...
Now, it's time to ask them questions. Here are some you might try:
what did you do for fun? in the day? at night? in the winter? in the
summer? with your parents? with your friends? did you have much money for
entertainment? if not, what ways did you have fun for free? did you do
things you weren't supposed to? what were they? did you get caught?
Finally, be sure to thank the person when you are through.