Experiences and stories (gathered by conversations and interviews) from people about what they have lived through, is oral history. If you are fortunate to have contact with an elder, they can tell you about “the good ol’ days” or their memories from “way back when”. If you do have contacts that can tell you about their experiences related to your project or topic, I encourage you to gather this invaluable first person experience.
“In the presence of grandparent and grandchild, past and future merge in the present.”
– Margaret Mead –
Conducting an interview to acquire oral history may be intimidating. Cold calling (emailing, calling and talking to someone out of the blue) especially to people you don’t know can be the most difficult part of the interview process. From my experience, emailing is the easiest way of contacting a person that you don’t know. However if this person does not have a public email address, contacting them may be more difficult. If you know that the person is going to be in town for a public event or gathering, you can ask them in person! This can be quick, just introduce yourself, explain you are doing a school project or personal research and ask for an interview. If they say yes, ask them when they are free and you can continue from there, but also prepare yourself for a no. They may not be comfortable with an interview or not want their personal experiences to be shared publicly. Whether the initial contact is in person or by email, you should introduce yourself, your project and topic, and politely ask for an interview.
Obtaining consent is very important. Make sure you ask them beforehand for their permission to use audio or any video recording devices. Personally, audio recording is easier than taking notes.
Remember to prepare questions before you ask for an interview. It’s good to have your questions in mind before asking for an interview as they may have time to conduct an interview at that very moment. So be prepared. If the interview is face-to-face, choose a location that is fairly quiet. Even sharing a meal and having a casual conversation can be relaxing and can release those jitterbugs. Remember to be casual and relax.
After the interview is finished, it is a good idea to compile your notes, audio recordings or video clips into a polished and finished product. Incorporating these interviews into your project can be very simple.
Last but not least, Have Fun! Talking to someone that you usually wouldn’t have a chance to, is a great and rewarding experience. Take this opportunity to value and recognize their opinion. Enjoy the moment! Be appreciative of their time, and be grateful that they are sharing their personal experiences with you.