Advice for finding an interviewer to record family oral history?
July 12, 2007 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone give me any advice on finding and hiring a professional to interview an elderly family member, to preserve family oral history? (located in upstate NY)
posted by chr1sb0y to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about professionals, but StoryCorps provides a Do-It-Yourself Guide for just that purpose.
posted by turaho at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2007

Chapel Hill, NC, is far from where you are, but I know that they have a program in "folklore" (I've encountered two graduates in my work). This may be a graduate degree only, I'm not sure.

I'd a) look for "folklore" programs in your area; b) look at the web site of / contact the UNC folklore program to find local equivalents; c) see if you could find a graduate of that or a similar program in your area.

This page lists at least one "oral history" class. You could also try contacting the professor and asking for a referral.
posted by amtho at 12:25 PM on July 12, 2007

I meant the university in Chapel Hill -- the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) -- has a program in folklore.
posted by amtho at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2007

You can check with Syracuse University's anthropology program. They may have a graduate student or faculty member who would be interested in doing a project such as this.

I've had to conduct these types of interviews as an ethnographer, but I am in Chicago :(
posted by jeanmari at 12:35 PM on July 12, 2007

You could also try the History and Sociology departments there as well.
posted by jeanmari at 12:37 PM on July 12, 2007

Syracuse also has a School of Information Studies--some librarian-to-be or one of their professors may be able to assist you.
posted by jdl at 12:43 PM on July 12, 2007

These people, who are based in San Francisco, do this sort of thing all over the world.

If you'd rather work with someone local, perhaps you can find someone in the membership directory of the Association of Personal Historians.
posted by dersins at 12:54 PM on July 12, 2007

Maybe you will find this to be helpful.
posted by wsg at 1:18 PM on July 12, 2007

I have been trained in the recording, legalese and documentation of oral history as part of my graduate studies in textile history, however I don't live in New York. Maybe some other highly specific, history-centric grad programs have similar training.

From my own experience, the hardest and most time consuming part of recording oral history is the transcription. When I do another oral history project, I will be farming the transcription part out to someone else. The interviewing part is actually pretty fun. Have you thought about conducting recorded verbal interviews with your family member(s) yourself and then paying someone to transcribe the interviews? It would definitely be cheaper and easier to hire a transcriptionist than to hire an historian.
posted by pluckysparrow at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2007

As a anthropologist who has done more than a few interviews, I'd like to suggest that perhaps you do it yourself. The best questions are those that come from someone who knows the family best. No, perhaps you're not going to get the super hidden secrets of the family, but if you are patient, and let your elderly family member start to reminisce on their own, you will probably get a really amazing view of their life.. and thats really what you're after.

I "interviewed" my Mother recently, trying to get some kind of oral history. I started from the perspective of my training and ended up abandoning that nonsense and got the most incredible anecdotes by simply saying "Wow! Tell me about that." It was random and non-linear but the insight into the mind of my Mother was more than priceless. I suggest something similar. Try and get a audio recording if they will allow it.

The details of any persons life are really not that important. Someone can say they lived through the Depression, etc.. but that tale of how they had to steal potatoes, dodging buckshot, as they passed through Kansas, then cooked it up on Sterno on the side of the road and then you realize that your Mother was conceived shortly thereafter.. THAT is a story worth repeating to your children. Don't trivialize the experiences and lives of your Elders. Make them human. It's sooo much better.
posted by elendil71 at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is a very good book that is chock full of interview questions. Was recommended here before.
posted by idb at 1:39 PM on July 12, 2007

I think it depends a lot of what you want to capture. Do you want an accounting of her life's events or her personality and particular color, way of speaking? I could imagine a rigid and efficient interviewer could get the former quite easily. But if you actually want audio recordings of Grandma to preserve her character and voice, it will be much more of a work of art to sit down with her. Probably as much about audio editing as anything else. It's just the way you said "oral history" that made me wonder which you meant. Is it that the history can only be acquired from her, verbally? Or are you focused on preserving her in the act of relating oral history?
posted by scarabic at 1:51 PM on July 12, 2007

In defense of oral historians, a big part of getting a good interview is taking the time to develop a rapport with the people being interviewed. A good interview is not clinical. There is an art to be able to get a person to relax and tell their stories. We are trained in this art. We do this because we actually love to hear people's stories. I know I am not the only interviewer who has cried right along with an interviewee who is recounting a sad story from his or her life.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:08 PM on July 12, 2007

« Older Help me find simple project scheduling software...   |   Getting involved with an organization Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.