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Jeremy Garsha, June 2003Project Related Transcripts (by Jeremy Garsha, April-June 2003)

Documenting Oral History - An Overview

Documenting Oral History

The purpose of oral history is to record the subject’s relationship to history.  As we know the testimony of participants in a historical event is not history.  For our particular project we are attempting to determine how Nina Morecki’s story impacts peoples lives.  When interviewing subjects we want to know not only if they remember the speech and what they remember from it, but also if it made a difference in their lives.  When interviewing graduates of Carpinteria High School we want to know things like whether Nina’s story influenced class choice or major in college if they went to college. 

Before the actual interview, we will need to do a preliminary introduction in which we introduce ourselves and briefly outline the project.  We do not want to tell them all the details or our expected outcomes because it could influence responses.

In regard tot he specifics of the interview, we want to go from general to specific questions.  For example, move from questions like: “what is your name, age, profession etc.,” to questions specifically geared to the talk and how it was received.  According to David Russell, questions need to be funneled down in order to build trust between the subject and the interviewer.  Another thing to remember is to do any verification in the interview.  For example, ask them where they are drawing their information if it is unclear.

Initially we will need to find out what was going on in their lives at the time of the event.  We also want to find out of and how they were prepared for the talk.  For example: how was the course being taught and what did the students think of the course.  Along those lines we need to remember to ask age appropriate questions.  The Carpinteria High School students were about seventeen at the time of the event.  Although they are about twenty-four now they will be recalling the event in the mindset of a seventeen year old. 

We will be asking both case specific questions such as: what transpired in the talk, and also general questions about what the subject know about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany.  We also want to determine what their prevailing attitudes about the Holocaust and Jews.  This will be best determined without asking specific questions of this nature but rather, listening to what they have to say, and inferring what they mean.

Before and after the interview we will need to ask the subject whether or not we can use their real names or if they would prefer pseudonyms.  The research will be more valuable with real names.  We will also want to offer to let them edit transcripts of the interview and eliminate any of the information.  We also want to offer them feedback.  Let them know what we will be doing with the information and where they can see it.  Make sure that they know the information is important and valuable so that they take the interview seriously.  You can do this by being professional.  Let them know what our basic objectives are and that this is an academic study.  We will also be presenting the subjects with release forms to assure that all information is acquired legally and that we will be able to present our work on the web or in the publication.

Briefly, in regard to phone interviews, the questions will be the same but the technicalities are a little different.  Put the phone on speakerphone and inform the subject that they are on speakerphone.  Place the tape-recorder as close to the speaker as possible on some kind of cloth surface like a blanket to reduce vibration.  Make sure there is no echo in the room.  Also, just because the interview is being conducted over the phone, the questions should still be mostly memorized as in the face-to-face interviews.  Reading questions will create a distance between the subject and the interviewer.

Things to remember:

  • Be professional
  • Be clear
  • Stay focused
  • Listen
  • Don't be judgmental

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Last updated June 11, 2003; 1/1/2011, 6/1/2012
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