People of all ages, young and old, can create oral histories. Capturing the stories and memories of individuals, community members, relatives, etc. is a great way to preserve history through the eyes of everyday people. Oral histories can give voices to those who have been forgotten, overlooked, or excluded from the historical record; provide unique and vital perspectives on the past, which can help inform future generations; and they can also be effective methods of recording information that is difficult to obtain by other ways.
Here are the steps involved in an oral history project (each of these steps are outlined in more detail in the sections below):
Having a plan is an essential part of any oral history project. In order to get the most out of an oral history project, it must be well-thought-out and well-documented in order for it to run smoothly and succeed. Consult the resources below for more information on developing a plan for your oral history project.
There are numerous recording equipment options, and this can make the process of selecting the right one feel daunting. However, it does not have to be complicated. Equipment can be as simple as a smartphone or be more sophisticated recording hardware. Equipment will likely depend on things like the scope and size of the project and what you can afford.
Ideally, you want equipment that can record at the highest standards: uncompressed WAV format, 24-bit, and 96 kHz. These are the preferred settings, but the recordings can also be done at the minimum standards of MP3 format, 16-bit, and 48 kHz. Consult the ND State Library's Digitization Standards for more information.
Consult the resources below for more information on obtaining the appropriate hardware and software for an oral history project.
Creating a list of questions prior to the interview is an important step so the interview remains organized. The questions you ask really depend on what you are focusing on, but below are some sample questions to get you thinking.
Who you interview for your project depends on its scope. However, these are often good places to start:
Once you begin asking the questions, the interview may go in all directions (and this is good). Let the interviewee feel comfortable as you guide them with the questions. Most of all, enjoy your time together—some interviews last 45 minutes and some last hours.
Consult the resources below for more information on the best practices of conducting interviews.
After the interviews, careful consideration should be given to the processing and storage of the recordings. Here are a few things to consider:
Now that your oral history project is almost complete, the last step is access. You want to somehow make the recordings accessible. The best way to do this is to upload the collection to an online repository. Here are a few examples: