How to Conduct Oral History Interviews

Article excerpt

Anyone who has studied history knows how a good personal story can lift a topic out of the mire of well researched data. "The Oral History Workshop" (Workman Publishing, $12.95) by Cynthia Hart with Lisa Samson tells how to get those stories, compile and preserve them. Oral history, of course, is all about stories. It is the tale of the past presented through the recollections of individuals. While age and memory can make those stories a little less than reliable, the manner in which they are told and the personal style of the speaker can make them fascinating.

Hart says the best element of oral history is that everyone "has a story to tell. And every individual is a piece of a greater puzzle -- a family, a community, the wider world." Put in context, then, oral history becomes a collection of those stories that make history more than simply dates and names.

The book is a guide to doing interviews and then finding something to do with them. It suggests:

Be prepared. Getting ready for an interview is one of the biggest parts of the job. (Ask any good reporter.) Hart suggests being informed about the era discussed, of course, but also says listening with sensitivity and the curiosity of a "third ear" will bring color to the session.

Use a little discipline. …