Curriculum: Social Studies and English Language Arts:
Texas Legacy archive is built on a set of oral history interviews
with many conservationists. Students can learn about their
community and surroundings using oral history methods too.
The student uses problem-solving and decision-making skills, working
independently and with others, in a variety of settings.
about leaders and issues in your community, and help
TexasLegacy.org add to our archives, by finding and interviewing
conservationists in your town. Whether
you do an interview for a paper or report, or create your own video,
please upload the information onto a school webpage, or create your
own page at a free site like MySpace.com, then send us your link via http://www.texaslegacy.org/bb/contact.php! Here’s how
we recommend you get started:
Understand why oral histories are collected.
put, oral history is a record of living memory. It is a
first-hand record of an individual's experiences, life, work, and
insights, typically based on an interview. Its strength is its
immediacy and closeness to the past's events and participants, and
the rich diversity of historical views that it allows. Oral
history's weakness is its vulnerability to hazy memories and
subjective views of events.
histories sometimes focus on an individual's life, and sometimes are
meant to contribute to a larger view, perhaps a history of a family,
a community, a company, an event, or other shared experience.
There is a rich tradition of oral history that can
help get you inspired and help you structure your own efforts.
Studs Terkel is one of the
more well-known American oral historians, and his works have been
compiled in The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century, that
should be available at your local library or book store.
Another good and more varied resource
to consider is the Folklore Project of the
Federal Writers' Project, which collected 2900 oral histories drawn
from 10,000 interviews taken by 300 writers in 24 states, from
1936-40. It can be found on-line:
Learn how oral history is made.
might say that there is both an art and a science to collecting oral
history. The art is in the effort to build friendship, earn
trust and avoid offense, and yet ask the relevant, probing and
sometimes uncomfortably frank questions. The art is in the
intuitive sense of which answers to let lie as the final word, and
which to follow up on to find our more. The art is in the
balance of asking enough questions to cover a wide range of years
and diversity of topics, and yet not trample on the fact that it is
the narrator's story, not the questioner's, and you must defer to
the narrator's pace and choice of topic.
other hand, the science of oral history is in the means that you use
to record your questions and the narrator's answers in a way that
will be affordable, thorough, easily accessible, and durable.
Technology's advances have offered a wide variety of machines and
media to choose among.
are many different ways of recording a perfectly useful oral
history, from relatively simple to more complex, with less or more
machinery and preparation involved. At the simple end, an oral
history can be compiled with just paper and pen, good attention to
what's being said, and fast handwriting. From that level, the
next step up would be to use an audio tape recorder, whether it's an
analog or digital machine, and whether one uses an analog cassette,
DAT tape, CD, or flash memory (as in an iPod or MP3
player/recorder). In addition, you might want to complement
your written or audio record with a photograph of the storyteller.
step of complexity would involve video, and within that world, there
are choices among hi-8 (analog or digital) and mini-dv (regular and
high-resolution), and among using natural or artificial light, sound
through the camera or through independent microphones and mixers.
With each extra level of complexity, you will get a more complete
record of your interview, but you will also face extra cost, more
need for a larger team, and unfortunately, greater risk of failure.
Also, you may find that the use of high-end video cameras, powerful
lights, and intrusive microphones can intimidate your narrator, and,
at least for a while, get in the way of the story.
you make these choices, please consider participating in the H-OralHist
oral history listserve:
Explore what you can learn from oral history
world has an infinite variety of topics and knowledgeable people to
tell you about those topics. Your job is to narrow down the
options! A good place to start is with close-by people and
events that you know best, rather than with exotic topics and
celebrity pundits. If you feel unsure about local conservation
issues and who has been involved, you might start by asking for
advice from your biology teacher, local newspaper reporter,
reference librarian or local elected officials. Or, you can
turn to the many federal, state, county and municipal agencies that
are responsible for stewardship of our natural resources.
Finally, you might consult with local non-profit groups: some
are national and well-known (Audubon Society, Environmental Defense,
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Conservancy, or the Sierra
Club), while others are local and small, but often very well-versed
in local issues (you might look them up under "Friends of...",
"Defenders of...", "Save our ...", etc.).
find out more about each topic, choose the topic that interests you
the most. Even better, find one that has, or could eventually,
impact you, your family or friends. This will keep your
curiosity and enthusiasm up as you proceed with the oral history,
and make it clear to the narrator that you are truly interested and
Decide whom you will record for your oral history
As you explore the topic
that most holds your interest, now you'll need to hunt for the best
person to explain the topic to you, and those who see the oral
history you collect. Ask your circle of contacts for:
narrators who have a personal stake and involvement in the subject.
You don't want to collect rumor and hearsay;
who have been participating in work on the topic for a long time.
You wouldn't want to only get the most recent chapters of a story,
without the preface, introduction and early chapters;
who have a balanced view of an event or issue. While you don't
want to hear a censored or laboriously balanced story, you also will
want to avoid hyperbole, accusations, recriminations, and highly
partisan narratives that may cloud the truth;
storytellers who actually enjoy talking: a shy or modest
person can make a wonderful friend, but not so good a narrator; and
narrators with a sense of humor, often a sign of a good perspective.
search for your ideal storyteller, and go through a checklist of
these and other questions, please remember to keep
good notes of the names of the people who offer referrals, and whom
they suggest you record. This
will help you find the best person or persons to interview.
Generally, the more people who recommend a given narrator, the
better off you'll be. Reputations do count.
Prepare for your oral history interview
your time in researching, conducting and editing the interview.
This work is hard to do quickly. You might want to lay out your plan in a schedule like this, perhaps
backing the timeline out from when the project is due:
Amount of Time Needed
Submit URL link for project to TexasLegacy.org
15 December (for a fall semester example)
8 Dec - 15 Dec
Upload final product to the web.
1 Dec - 8 Dec
Evaluation by teacher, parent, other leader
24 Nov - 1 Dec
Review by narrator
17 Nov - 24 Nov
Edit Interview and create webpage with interview
3 Nov - 17 Nov
Set up interview (draft letter or phone call,
20 Oct - 3 Nov
Research target subjects (topics and person to
13 Oct - 20 Oct
Research interview technique, draft interview
30 Sep - 13 Oct
you are going to be asking someone to give you some of their time,
AND share their personal memories, thoughts and advice with you, be
courteous and show your respect and gratitude for their time and
insights. Tell your subject the who, what, when, where and why of
your project. This will help you explain clearly why you think what
they did or have to say is important enough to interview.
Here is a basic outline of the things you should be able to discuss
with the person you want to interview:
you are doing the interview
topic you want to ask them about
you will do with the interview information and the audio and/or
videotape, including linking it to TexasLegacy.org
much time you will need for your interview (you can say, for
example, about two hours). When estimating how much time
you'll need, remember to include the time needed to set up your
equipment and pack it up if you are taping the interview.
you want to (or need to) do the interview (for example, sometime
between now and the end of the month, or the week of…). If you are
limited to certain days or times, let them know that, too.
you want to do the interview. Offer to go to their office or home,
but give them the choice of coming to your school or a room you’ve
reserved at your local library, etc, too. Often narrators are
more comfortable where they live or work, and their stories become
more fluid and complete.
Remember the little things
a first list of things to bring to the interview such as the contact information
and directions, camera, cords (extension, AC Adaptor, microphone),
tapes or memory cards, notebook and/or tape recorder if you aren’t
filming the interview, lights, charged batteries, etc.
together a second list is things to double-check when you are setting up for
the interview, especially if you are taping. Things for this
checklist include checking that the equipment is working, that the
subject can be heard clearly on the tape, that the subject isn’t
back lit, that the background isn’t distracting (like a pole
‘growing’ out of the subject’s head), that you can be heard asking
the questions, etc.
During the interview
you start, review your notes on the topics you'd like to cover, so
include mention of all the topics you'd like to include.
People's lives and experiences are long and diverse: it can be
a thicket once you get started, so a little clarity in what you're
looking for can help a great deal.
help make your subject feel comfortable during
the interview. If you subject is at ease, he or she will be more
likely to give you interesting answers. You need to be comfortable
enough so that you are LISTENING to your subject and can follow up
when they say something unexpected or interesting that you weren’t
expecting. You want your interview to sound like a natural
conversation, not like you are giving your subject a test on his or her
Immediately after the interview
that he or she sign a release form allowing you to use the interview
record. Here is a simple sample release form (many more
involved and comprehensive releases are also possible):
In view of the historical value
of this oral history interview, I (name of interview
subject) knowingly and voluntarily permit
(name of student interviewer, name of class, and name of school)
the full use of this information for educational purposes.
of interview subject)
Date (date of
9. Soon after the interview
Write the narrator a thank-you
note, and pass on any draft photographs, notes, transcripts, or
recordings that you made during the interview. If you have
questions about pronunciations, spellings, or other possible
confusing parts of the interview, ask for help resolving the issue.
Prepare your edited, polished
a link to your great work to http://www.texaslegacy.org/bb/contact.php
you have uploaded your final project, send another note to the
interviewee with the
link to your information.