Don’t Lose Your Memories!
Getting Started on
Marsha Holland interviews Grethe Twitchell of Cannondale
Why do it?
Everyone carries inside a whole world of experience, thoughts, and feelings.
Oral history is a wonderful way to glimpse these worlds.
And let's be honest: We're all going to die sometime. Oral history can keep a person's voice, expressions, and memories from slipping away forever.
Some simple suggestions
People on both sides of the tape recorder can enjoy oral history. Try these suggestions for getting a good oral history:
- Get clear
Decide what you want to accomplish. Don't waste precious time getting facts you can get elsewhere. Instead, plan a lot of "why," "how," and "what" questions.
- Do your homework
Learn as much as you can on your own. Then write a list of topics and questions. You don't have to stick to your list exactly.
- Get the right time, right place, right participants
Arrange a time and place with no interruptions. Try to not have a third person present. (Even a third party who doesn't say a word can change or interfere with the interview!) Tell your subject in advance what topics you'd like to cover.
- Have the right equipment
A good microphone is crucial! And make sure your recorder is reliable.
- Have a dress rehearsal
Practice with your tape recorder beforehand. Bring the recorder, extra batteries and tapes. Or you might want to use a digital recorder, which has certain advantages. Either way, remember Murphy's Law,* and don't rely only on the recorder. Take good notes also.
* If anything can go wrong, it will.
- Warm up
Spend some time just chatting with your subject to put you both at ease. Get permission, in writing, for you to use the interview. Let your subject know he or she will be able to see and approve of the transcripts.
- Remember the details
At the beginning of the interview, record both of your names and the date, place, and general topic of the interview.
During the interview, ask a question, then wait and listen. Don't interrupt or correct or add your own comments. Show your interest.
- Dig deeper
Ask questions that probe deeper. Be alert for clues that your subject knows stories or details you might not get unless you ask. Remember to ask questions that go beyond Yes and No answers. Sometimes the best questions are personal--those that bring out some emotion.
- Jog memory
Bring pictures, documents, or items that might spark memories and bring out details.
- Keep it short
Reliving memories and emotions can be tiring. Don't overdo each session.
- Don’t push it
If your subject doesn't want to talk about something, respect that.
- Get it in writing
Transcribe the tape using the subject's exact words.
Let the subject see and approve the transcription (use a release form for this) and be sure to offer him or her a copy. Also remember that State History would love to receive a copy. Contact the Research Center at 801/533-3535.
- Enjoy the process!
The Utah Oral History Program seeks to encourage, support, and foster the collection and use of oral histories.
The Do History website has some good advice and sample forms.