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Oral History: Student Activities

This collaborative guide features the oral history resources created by students, faculty and the Philadelphia community.

How to do Oral History Podcast Series

The Minnesota Historical Society in association with the Institute of Museum & Library Services created the following How to do Oral History Podcast Series that explains the entire oral history process.

Getting Started on your Oral History project.

Preparing for the interview and doing individual research.

Writing interview questions and a script for the interview.

Conducting the interview.

Student Perspective on Interviewing

Student Chukwabunna "Chuk" Obiefuna speaks about his experience with interviewing his father, Geoffrey Obiefuna who is originally from Nigeria.

What are Students Saying about Oral History Assignments?

Based on surveys of Community College of Philadelphia students (sample size over 100 across three semesters from in-person, hybrid, and online courses):

 

When asked if they felt more engaged with the topic through an oral history writing assignment versus other types of writing assignments, 71 % replied “Yes.”

 

When asked if listening and reading about other people’s lives in their own words made the assignment more meaningful for you, 73 % replied “Yes.”

 

When asked if they would be interested in doing oral history assignments again, 69% replied “Yes.”

Oral History Interview Etiquette

Keep these points in mind when you conduct your oral history interview:

1. Prepare! Before the interview, formulate objectives and decide what information you want to elicit from the person; it would help you to review the textbook chapters on the topics you’d like to cover. Write down 10 to 15 questions you want to ask and bring them with you to the interview.  Other questions may come up during the interview and it’s okay to ask those.

2. Aim to answer open-ended questions rather than restrictive questions that can be answered yes/no. For example, “Are you married?” is restrictive and will not give you information. But asking “Tell me about your marriage” will yield a richer response.

3. When thinking of your questions, be sure they are clear and will be understood by your interviewee. They should be appropriate.  You are not just representing yourself, but your institution and this course.

4. Get your interviewee’s permission ahead of time and schedule a mutually agreeable day and time.  Tell him/her why you are interviewing them, the process, and the assignment.  Disclose that it will take about 45 minutes.

5. Before jumping into your questions, make the interviewee feel comfortable. Be polite and welcoming. Thank them for their time before starting. Begin with a general question such as, "Tell me about your background."

6. Don’t interrupt and allow the interviewee time to respond to your questions.  If you are not clear on something, ask when the person is finished speaking. It’s also a good idea to use a technique called “reflection” where you summarize back what the person just said to be sure you’ve captured it correctly. 

7. When the interview is done, thank your interviewee again. You may be interested in sending them a handwritten thank you note for their valuable time.

 

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