The Grand Trunk Road - Recording Oral History Interviews

Conducting an Interview

· Tell the interviewee at the beginning what level of detail you are interested in gathering. For oral history interviews, I ask people to specifically mention street names, village names, or the year they are referring to. These snippets of factual information act as points of reference, and also make the story more authentic.


· Aim for a conversation rather than an interrogation. Instead of starting with a list of questions, consider talking around a number of key themes, for example, childhood, family values, being a British Asian in India, marriage.


· Avoid closed questions that might only generate a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Also avoid double-headed questions such as ‘did you like working there, and if so why?’ It is better to ask these one at a time. Better still, ask questions that encourage the interviewee to be descriptive in his response, such as ‘can you describe what that was like?’, or ‘can you explain….’. Another strategy is to ask them to make comparisons, for instance, ‘how did your house differ to the one you live in now?’.


· A good quote should relate something that cannot be expressed in the third person, so encourage the interviewee to reflect on their personal experience rather than the general.


· Consider using objects to help stimulate reminiscence. Old photographs and memorabilia can help to rekindle memories. When we met the great grandson of one of four personal bodyguards to King Edward VIII, we asked him to show us his medals and swords. These precious objects helped to bring the picture to life (see image), but also brought back many more stories that the interviewee had heard about his legendary great-grandfather.


· Encourage the interviewee to reveal more by probing further, for instance, ‘why do you think that was?’ or ‘what happened after that?’ It is also important to let them know that you are engrossed by saying ‘that’s interesting’. But do be careful to use non-verbal responses wherever possible, such as nods or smiles rather than ‘mms’ to avoid an extensive audio edit later.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Bradford Industrial Museum | 
Photo © Tim Smith

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