Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Valk, Anne M. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Fall/Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences


Valk, Anne M., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. second Edition. By Valerie Raleigh Yow (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2005. Pp. 416. Index. Cloth, $75.00, paper, $29.95).

In this revised edition of her textbook, Recording Oral History, Valerie Yow presents an introduction to oral history that is extremely accessible and useful. The author's aim is larger than simply offering instructions on how to "record" interviews. Instead, Yow presents a cogent and clear synthesis that combines practical advice with consideration of many ethical, methodological, and analytical challenges that researchers may encounter. The book's chapters are divided topically in a manner that makes it easy for readers to find and read relevant information; a detailed table of contents and extensive index aid this effort. Individual chapters offer practical advice on topics such as "Preparation for the Interviewing Project," "Interviewing Techniques," and "Legalities and Ethics." Other chapters are more theoretical or scholarly, summarizing current thinking in the social sciences and humanities on topics such as "Interpersonal Relations in Oral History," "Oral History and Memory," and "Analysis and Interpretation." The remaining chapters are geared toward the researcher who seeks guidance on starting an oral history project focused on a community, an individual, or a family. A series of appendices contain examples of forms one might use in research and professional guidelines for interviewers.

Throughout the text, Yow presents an overview that will be helpful to both beginners and experienced oral historians. For the novice, Yow includes detailed and practical information about how to conduct an interview and how to design and start an oral history project. She covers topics such as framing questions, selecting equipment, and creating forms and a format for keeping information and materials well organized. This information is suitable for use within a classroom or to direct independent researchers working outside a scholastic setting. Yow is a confident and accessible guide, drawing on her own extensive experience as an interviewer and researcher, as well as framing her advice within the context of the standards set by relevant historical organizations. Like these organizations, whose oral history guidelines are reprinted in the book's appendices, Yow urges interviewers to conduct broad, life history interviews, rather than those focused more narrowly on a single topic, and that they make arrangements to preserve their interviews in a suitable library or archive. Her instructions are framed with these expectations in mind. …

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