Oral History Project

How to Conduct Your Oral Histories 

You will conduct an oral history with someone in your social network (a family member or friend) about urban life based on a collection of questions put together by you and your classmates. Each student will be required to record an interview on their phone of at least 15 Mins.

Here is the Consent Form you and your interviewee must fill out. Alternatively you can record yourself reading this form out-loud and your interviewee consenting: Consent Form

You must follow the procedures for a good interview found in the reading, Conducting Interviews and outlined in the next section. The central thing you are seeking is stories!!!

Choosing Someone to Interview

Preparing the Questions

  • Look over list of questions provided in the assignment and, if necessary, change the language to accommodate how you like to express yourself, or translate the questions into the language you will conduct the interview.
  • Create at least five of your own questions, keeping in mind who your interviewee is and what insights they might or might not be able to offer.
    • For instance, if you are interviewing someone who got arrested for peacefully protesting, you need to ask about that experience.
  • Avoid yes and no questions, the goal is to get stories from your interviewee.

Arranging a Meeting

  • Verify time/date/location of oral history interview with your interviewee (avoid loud places)
  • If the interview is over the phone or zoom, make sure they know you will be recording the interview.

Preparing the Interviewee

  • Make sure the interviewee fully understands the project or why you are interviewing them. Explain the purpose of your project and what you’re hoping to get out of your interview with them.
  • Share the questions with your interviewee beforehand to give them a chance to prepare.

Going Over the Consent Form

  • With your interviewee read over the consent form and explain that the interview will be recorded and made available to the public.
    • Explain the consent form in the language most comfortable to your interviewee.
  • Make sure your interviewee is comfortable with their story being shared with the world.
    • If they are not comfortable sharing their story for legal or personal reasons, please try to find someone different to interview.
    • If you can’t find someone else, please let me know and we will figure out a different assignment. Your grade will not be negatively impacted. Your grade will NOT be impacted.
  • Both you and the interviewee must sign and date the consent form.
    • Typing your name is not sufficient to donate the oral history.
    • They MUST write or electronically sign their own signature.

Recording the Interview

  • Figure out which application you will be using to record the interview.
    • You can record a zoom call, which is probably the easiest way.
    • Both iPhone and android phones have built-in software to record, however, if you are interviewing someone over the phone, which I would recommend unless they live in your household, you will either need to use two phones (One to record and the other to make the call on speaker phone) or download an application that allows you to record calls.
  • Practice using your recording equipment.
  • While the interview is going on make sure the equipment is working.

During the Interview

  • Speak in the language most comfortable for your interviewee.
  • Don’t be judgmental of their responses.
  • Try not to give positive or negative feedback.
  • Be casual.

Being an Active Listener

  • Give cues that you are listening.
  • Remember to ask follow-up questions. If their feels like there is more to what they are saying, ask them to share more.
  • Take notes on things you find interesting or important. This both helps you formulate follow-up questions and will remind you later of your preliminary thoughts.
  • After you finish, ask your interviewee if there is anything you should have asked but did not ask.
  • Ask if they would share a picture.
  • Ask them if they’re still comfortable sharing their interview.

After the Interview

  • Immediately jot down any thoughts or ideas you had from the interview.
  • Follow-up with the interviewee and send a note of thanks.
  • Send the interviewee a copy of the recording.

Submitting the Interview:

  • Set up a free dropbox account with your email address. If you already have a dropbox account that is full, please create a new gmail account to use for this project.
  • Place the following things in a folder titled with your full name (FIRST NAME, LAST NAME). Within this folder place…
    • The recording of the interview
    • A Photo of the Interviewee
    • The Signed Consent Form or a Recording of the Consent Form
  • Share the folder with the email samuel.finesurrey@guttman.cuny.edu.

NOTE: It is totally acceptable—and in some instances encouraged—to record this oral history in another language, however, if the language is not Spanish, you are responsible for translating key quotes for your presentation and paper.


Spring 2023 U.S. Government Question List