On April 26, local history enthusiast Mark Postma talked to us about oral history.

Oral history is the oldest method of passing history from generation to generation.  Through the use of twenty-first century technology, it is also one of the most modern.   Most written histories give the facts and figures that connect the past to the present.  Oral History recounts lifetimes of human experience, feelings, and attitudes that are not generally captured in written history.  Think of how many experiences anyone has in a lifetime.  A verbal recounting of a portion of those will contain a treasure trove of insight, humor and wisdom. To preserve these priceless memories is a worthy endeavor!

There are many different kinds of Oral Histories:  Local history, genealogy, participants or witnesses to an event, group histories, and people of interest.  The end product can come in many forms:  Written, CD, DVD, audio tapes as well as publishing to the web.  According to Mark, choice of equipment is driven by which final form your interview will take.  Traditional tape recorders lend to a final written transcript while digital recorders come in a broad range of prices and capabilities allowing easy downloading to your computer and editing, making them extremely attractive devices for doing Oral History.

In preparation, it is critical to know your subject, do some research, and choose your questions based on that information.  Choosing a quiet location and knowing your equipment are musts.  Always be respectful, sensitive, and non-judgmental.  Lastly, Mark feels it is imperative that the interviewee both express their consent to be recorded, and agree that the results of the interview are given freely to be used in whatever form will be best to share it with others.  This not only does this put everyone at ease, but avoids misunderstandings with family members in the future.

Begin your interview with introductions, date and time and as you proceed, be ready to change the sequence of your questions.  Very often in the course of discussing one question, you will get answers to other questions you had intended to ask.  Watch for signs of fatigue and be prepared to continue at another time.  Always thank your subject for their participation.  After the interview, if using an audio CD or DVD, use digital sound editing software to remove any sounds that detract from the interview and then type your interview.  Send another thank you along with a copy of the transcript and disk to your subject, and then file the interview, along with the consent and deed of gift.  If this is a genealogy interview, send copies to other family members.

Mark provided us with sample questions and other resources we’ve made available to you here on the CCHPS website.  Go to the RESOURCES tab to find these, and other helpful information.