Guide to Oral History

This information is condensed from the Principles and Best Practices guide published by the Oral History Association.


Guide to Oral History

What is Oral History?

Oral history is both a method of recording oral storytelling as well as the interviews created by that process. The interviews themselves are an in-depth account of personal experiences and reflections. Instead of “interviewer” and “interviewee,” the oral history storyteller is considered a “narrator” who is respected for her opinions and contributions.

First time oral history interviewers should take time to prepare for the process. That includes making sure you know what archive might be willing to accept the interview (The Veterans History Project and Women in Military Service for America Memorial are two archives which accept female veterans’ oral histories and we’ll accept WAVES and SPARs orala histories), as well as talking with the narrator in an unrecorded setting to talk casually about the interview and their experiences.

Guide to Oral History

The Interview

Record the interview in a quiet room and make sure that the recording uses the best possible equipment available to you. Respect the narrator’s desire to not talk about certain topics. Ask for clarification; don’t assume you understand what a person is talking about. Be sure to provide the narrator with a release form and have it signed.

After the interview, provide the narrator with a written transcript of the interview, and allow her to make any corrections.