Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oral History and the Vietnam War Pt. 2

Oral History and the Vietnam War Pt. 2

Now that we've established some of the theory of using oral histories, let's talk about where to find them.  There are three main ways to find oral histories.  First, you can pull them out of books like Bloods or Everything We Had.  Second you can find them in online archives like this one at Texas Tech.  Third, you can collect them yourself.

I'm going to focus on the third part here.  If you and your students collect oral histories you want to do it right.  That means following the guidelines established by the Oral History Association.  Briefly, there are three main things you should do:  1. get a release 2. record the interview in some format  and 3. make it publicly available for other researchers.    1 is pretty easy to follow.  You can find sample forms here or here.  You can strip them down to even more basic forms as found at the back of this guide.  2 used to be pretty complicated but is comparatively easy now.  You should not try to take notes.  Rather, record the interview using a cell phone or laptop.  (A digital video recorder is great, but if you don't know how to use it, it may not be worth it).  If you can get video do it, audio is fine though.  If you can provide a transcription, that's fabulous but raw footage is wonderful too.  After you or your students complete the interview, make it publicly available.  You can upload it to   Make sure you use useful tags. 

In doing interviews, it's best not to work with an interview schedule.  Instead, ask the subject open ended questions starting with some basic ones.  Where were you born, where did you grow up, what is your earliest memory.  Get them talking.  Gradually steer the conversations to what you are interested in.  Try not to ask yes or no questions.  Remember that you want the subject talking.  So "how did you come to be in the Army?" rather than "were you drafted."  It's the stories that make the difference!  

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