What this guide is about
This guide contains resources, online and at the library, that will help you plan, carry out, and use oral history interviews. For more examples of oral history collections as well as other primary sources, see the HIST 357 Civil War and Reconstruction guide.



 
Guidelines for oral history interviews
Your first stop should be the guidelines found at the Library of Congress Veterans' Oral History Project. For the three stages of your oral history, the LOC provides an outline and step-by-step guidance, as well as all necessary forms
1. Prepare for the interview.
2. Conduct the interview
3. Send your collection to the Library of Congress.

The Oral History Association's website summarizes the principles behind oral history collection. It also provides an excellent list of the pre-interview, interview, and post-interview steps that a careful historian will follow when collecting oral histories. 

For time estimates of how long it takes to prep, interview, and process, check out this Oxford University Press blog post by Steven Sielaff. In fact, you will find many useful posts on the OUP website under the "oral history" tag, as they track their year-long #OriginStories and #HowtoOralHistory projects. I especially recommend this post by Andrew Viñales, "Oral history for youth in the age of #BlackLivesMatter."
The Baylor University Institute for Oral History provides tips on interviewing and transcribing interviews, as well as other helpful resources. 

For more best practices (i.e., tested and standardized guidelines), advice on choosing a digital recorder, and a vast oral history wiki, visit Oral History in the Digital Age (a project created by the Institute of Museum & Library Services in 2013). Explore the list of quick links below or visit the main OHDA page and browse the project website. 
  • A "Getting Started" Guide with tips to walk you through from planning to preserving your interview. 
  • Micro-essays on useful topics such as proper lighting, enhancing audio, framing questions, and following legal rules for disseminating a finished interview. 
  • Ask Doug, an interactive quiz that helps you find the best digital recorder or microphone for your project. Try clicking the option "useable for class projects but not professional quality." 
  • OHDA Wiki, which includes descriptions of best practices for conducting oral histories.

The "Step-by-step Guide to Oral History" hosted by Havard University and George Mason University gives you a literal outline of the oral history process. This site is especially useful if you like to make and follow lists. The tips on making and asking questions are especially helpful.

If you learn better by reading paragraphs of explanation, take a look at Indiana University's Center for the Study of History and Memory's "Oral History Techniques" guide. The guide is 8 pages long. 
How to use oral histories in your writing
"Making Sense of Oral History" by Linda Shopes walks through the interpretation of an oral history interview. She also discusses how historians use these kinds of primary sources. See the table of contents on the left side of the page to jump to the sample interpretation. 

Willa Baum's 13-page article for The Oral History Review contains a succinct definition of oral history and then explores ways that historians can apply the finished product (see page 23 of the PDF). Baum_TheOtherUsesOfOralHistory_2007.pdf pdf

Susan Cahn's essay "Sports Talk: Oral History and Its Uses, Problems, and Possibilities for Sport History" was published in The Journal of American History in 1994. Cahn gives examples of sports historians using oral histories to emphasize issues of identity and personal experience. Cahn_SportsTalkAndOralHistory_1994.pdf pdf

For a legal perspective, read Dejah Rubel's article "Accessing Their Voice From Anywhere," published in Archival Issues in 2007. This article reviews the legal issues surrounding the online dissemination of oral histories, including copyright, right to privacy, and defamation. Whenever possible, the author argues for increased access to materials within a conservative legal framework, as most oral histories were intended to be used by future scholars. AI_Vol31_No2_DejahTRubel1.pdf pdf
Sample oral history collections
This is not an exhaustive list. For more examples, just ask your librarian. Email: kvanarsdale@puc.edu.

Oral history collections online:

African American Oral History Collection at the University of Louisville Libraries contains interviews conducted in order to document the many aspects of life in Louisville (prior to the 1970s), particularly as experienced by African Americans. Businessmen, educators, politicians, doctors, historians, musicians, and other civic leaders of various kinds were interviewed. Interviews range between 30 minutes and 4 hours long. The interviewees talk about parents, upbringing (often outside Louisville), experiences in school, careers, and their achievements. They discuss everyday life as well as the big events in the history they lived. 

Back from Iraq: The Veterans' Stories Project. During the spring of 2009, Penn State offered the course, "Narrative, Oral History, New Media Technologies." This course was designed to teach student veterans how to use video and web technologies in order to chronicle the stories and experiences of the Iraq War. Students gained hands-on experience in documentary filmmaking and oral history interviewing while learning pre- and post-production video techniques.

Baylor University Institute for Oral History. Since its founding in 1970, the Baylor University Institute for Oral History (BUIOH) has collected over 6000 interviews. The Institute has created transcripts of almost all interviews in the collection, and nearly 4000 of these transcripts are available to researchers and the public online as fully text-searchable PDFs. New draft transcripts of in-process projects are added monthly as work progresses. A tutorial for using the database is available. 

Community College of Philadelphia Student Oral History Archive. The “Philly Stories” Student Oral History Archive is an ongoing oral history program centered on interviewing members of the Philadelphia community about their backgrounds and documenting the region’s history, while creating opportunities for Community College of Philadelphia students to become more involved with historical research and the creation of primary sources. 

Documenting the American South. "Oral Histories of the American South" is a three-year project to select, digitize and make available 500 oral history interviews gathered by the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). These interviews are selected from a collection of over 4,000 interviews, housed at the Southern Historical Collection, that cover a range of fascinating topics. This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Library of Congress Veterans' History Project Database. In order to use the digital collections, Go to the Veterans History Project Web site and select "Search the Veterans Database". Search or browse for names, as well as additional categories. Limit searches by war or branch of service. View the contents of thousands of digitized collections. 

Minnesota History Center Oral History Collection. Since 1948, the Minnesota Historical Society has used oral history to document Minnesota’s past and present. The Oral History Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society includes more than 1600 interviews with Minnesotans from across the state. Beginning in 1984, the Society has also operated a video history program to complement a number of its oral history projects. In 2009 the Oral History office began digitizing its entire collection and today can boast the largest digitized collection in the country. Full audio interviews and transcripts are available online.

Smith College Libraries Sophia Smith Collection. This is a comprehensive list of oral histories in the Sophia Smith Collection. It includes individual oral histories; oral histories found within collections of personal papers; and oral history projects. The oral history projects cover such topics as the suffrage, feminist, civil rights and reproductive rights movements; women in social work and medical professions; grassroots activists; Italian immigrants; and women in war.

StoryCorps. From more than ten thousand interviews, StoryCorps--the largest oral history project in US history--presents a tapestry of American stories, told by the people who lived them to the people they love. StoryCorps began with the idea that everyone has an important story to tell. Since 2003 this project has been collecting the stories of everyday Americans from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life and preserving them for future generations.

Telling Their Stories Oral History Archives Project. High school students at the Urban School of San Francisco conduct and film interviews with Bay Area Holocaust survivors in their homes. Students then transcribe each 2-plus hour interview, create hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then post the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website as a service to a world-wide audience interested in Holocaust studies. See Project Descriptions for a more detailed overview of the course and project. NOTE: The project has lately expanded to include interviews on topics across the 20th century.

UCLA Center for Oral History Research. UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research collects oral history interviews related primarily to the history of Southern California and the Los Angeles metropolitan region.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s oral history collection is one of the largest and most diverse resources for Holocaust testimonies in the world. In addition to conducting interviews itself, the Museum actively collects interviews from individuals as well as other institutions. The collection contains interviews with survivors of the Holocaust and persecution by the Nazis and their collaborators. Interviewees include Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Polish Gentiles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political prisoners. Testimonies of liberators, non-Jewish witnesses, and rescuers are also included in the collection.

The University of Florida Samuel Proctor Archives. The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program Digital Collection includes the digital holdings of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) at the University of Florida. The largest collection contains more than 900 interviews with Native Americans including Seminoles, Cherokees, and Creeks. Other major holdings include projects on African Americans in Florida, Civil Rights action in St. Augustine (1964), and the University of Florida. With over 5,000 interviews and more than 150,000 pages of transcribed material, the SPOHP collection is one of the largest oral history archives in the South and one of the top collections in the country. 

Wisconsin Veterans' Museum. The Oral History Collection contains the personal stories and military experiences of Wisconsin-connected veterans of World War I to the present day.  There are currently over 1,900 interviews in the collection. These interviews complement and extend the archival, library, and artifact collections of the museum.

More lists of online oral history collections:

Oral History Association list of centers and collections.
Oral History in the Digital Age featured oral history sites. 
 
Subject Specialist
Picture: Katy Van Arsdale

Katy Van Arsdale
Special Collections Librarian
Tel: 965-6244

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