Fostering Oral History Interview Skills

The purpose of this page is to share some resources that will help foster your ability to conduct an oral history interview. This interview could be with a professional historian, veteran, eye witness, author, journalist, or some other person connected to someone with a lived experience. While this page is written particularly for students of history, social science, civics, and current events classes at Cuba H.S., those outside our school district may find these resources helpful (not all interviews will be characterized as “historical” interviews but many of the principles remain).

Forgottonia is a region that developed from the hardship experienced from being unseen and unheard. Therefore, we must take special care to develop our ability to listen to these stories, and more importantly, to benefit from the wisdom they hold. Here are a few resources:

#1 – Smithsonian: How to do Oral History (click text for link)

  • Reviews the 6 R’s of conducting an oral history interview (RESEARCH, RAPPORT, RESTRAINT, RETREAT, REVIEW, RESPECT)
  • Discusses strategies to prepare for an oral history interview, several tips for conducting them, and suggestions for recording

#2 – Story Corps: DIY (click text for link)

  • Offers insights on how to promote listening and offers advice on best practices to conduct effective interviews
  • Storycorps developed 15 years ago with the following mission: To preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people & create a more just and compassionate world

#3 – The Danger of a Single Story

  • Well-regarded Ted Talk featuring Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie who describes the effects that labels can have on how we think about ourselves and others. The region of Forgottonia and rural regions throughout the US have undoubtedly experienced the negative effects mentioned in this talk
  • The risk of the single-story, the one perspective, is that it can lead us to default assumptions, conclusions, and decisions that may be incomplete, and may lead to misunderstanding. “
  • “Operating from the context of a single story can prevent us from a more complex, nuanced view of a situation.
  • “Single stories can have significant negative impact. They can rob people of their dignity, and emphasize how we are different rather than how we are similar
  • Facing History & Ourselves – Great reading that offers further insights and reflection questions

#4 – The Art of Listening

  • Interview with author and speaker Simon Sinek about the importance of listening.
  • Listening is more than the act of hearing. It’s creating an environment in which the other person FEELS heard. If we truly listen to someone else’s perspective, we can gain understanding and engage in more meaningful dialogue.
  • White Right: Meeting the Enemy by Deeyah Khan – Link to a trailer for the documentary film referenced by Sinek. “Khan, who received death threats from the Far Right movement after giving a TV interview advocating diversity and multiculturalism, tries to get behind the hatred and the violent ideology, to try to understand the personal reasons why people embrace racist extremism.”

#5 – C-SPAN Oral History Skills, featuring filmmaker Ken Burns

A great resource to foster oral history skills featuring helpful tips from filmmaker Ken Burns & Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie Bunch. Includes lesson plan activities and student project ideas.

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