Interviewing Tips for Living History Tales
Remember that for an oral history, the person whom you are interviewing must have lived through that event or time period and must be able to recall details and other memories. If you want to learn about what it was like here 60 years ago, for example, you must find someone who was at least in his or her early teen years during the 1950s. This means that the person must be at least 75 years old today.
This is not as hard as you think; older people are all around you. They are your relatives, neighbors and family friends. You can always interview someone about unique challenges in the past. Many people in the Gatineau Valley region grew up without electricity in the home, for example. Most people will be thrilled that you are interested in their experiences and will go out of their way to make the interview an experience that you will not forget.
“It was great seeing all the students working together and having a good time. I could see them overcome their shyness and make the most of it! It really opened a door for them.”
Meghan Scott, Teacher
“I liked working with the experienced people from Theatre Wakefield and I really liked doing the project with Dusty and Brandon. I would do it again and again.”
Katarina, Secondary-Cycle 1, Year 2
“I learned a lot about Brennan’s Hill that I didn’t know before. I learned about the Battle, the phone, the bar and the funny stories about it. I learned so much doing it and I loved everything about it.”
Marie-Pierre, Secondary-Cycle 1, Year 1
- What was the happiest (funniest or saddest) memory?
- What was your biggest accomplishment?
- What actions would you change if you had a chance to re-live those years again?
- What mistakes did people make during this period or event in history?
- What should people today remember about this time/event?
Even with your best efforts some people may need some extra questions to encourage them to tell the full story. Don’t be afraid to ask for details or explanations.
- Why was this important at the time?
- How did that story first begin, or finally end?
- What else would you like to tell me about...?
- What important question did I forget to ask you?
The last group of questions should offer your subject a chance to talk about the “big picture” by telling about what was good or bad, important or less important. These questions should be asked last because they allow the interviewee a chance to sum up and make conclusions. Remember that this is your interviewee’s opportunity to give his or her own opinion—you may or may not agree with the conclusions.