Conducting an Oral History Interview: A Guide
Doing an oral history interview is a fantastic way to learn about the past. From a screen historical perspective, it gives you unique and valuable insight into the way the movies have changed. And it gives you a fun, “real-world” opportunity to compare the movie-going of yesteryear with the experience we know today.
What’s the best way to go about conducting an oral history interview? Today we’ll take you through the process, step-by-step, for conducting an interview for use in Assessment Item 1, the Interview-Based Report.
Step 1: Preparation
Good preparation is essential to getting the most out of your oral history interview. Start by asking yourself some key questions – What do I want from this interview? What is the primary data I need for comparison in my report? What do I need in order to prepare myself properly for this interview? Identifying what it is you’re looking for will help you to frame your enquiry better, and locate the best interviewee. In your Preparation phase, it’s a good idea to develop some draft questions geared towards getting you the answers you need.
Step 2: Locating the Interviewee
What you’re looking for in an interviewee is someone who: A) Has been to the movies prior to 1975
B) Has a good memory and can recall those experiences
C) Is a good talker and able to share those experiences with you in the interview.
Many students find the best interviewee for their Interview-Based Report is a family member, or close family friend. Ask around and see if there’s anyone your friends and family can suggest. Someone who loved going to the movies will almost always make for a great interviewee! Another option is to seek out someone who was involved with the movies – a cinema projectionist, cinema manager or owner, or even an usher or usherette, who can share with you their special insights about what movie-going was like in their day.
If you’re having trouble locating an interviewee amongst your immediate friends and family, you may like to seek an interview with another member of your community – a justice of the peace, a librarian, people working in bookstores or involved with community organisations such as Rotary, who may be able to help you with your moviegoing interview. Consider putting a notice on a community noticeboard or in the newspaper, and you should have no trouble with finding someone to talk to!
Remember – not only does this assignment offer really exciting potential for your communications research skills, it’s amazing how much this activity of talking to someone about times gone by, can broaden your mind, and help you appreciate and understand, the recent past.
Step 3: Pre-Interview
In the pre-interview stage, you should contact your interviewee and tell them what you plan to talk to them about. This gives you a chance to ensure that they can recall the material you’re seeking details about, and also serves to kick-start their memories of those experiences you want to hear about. Develop your questions using the ones suggested in the Unit Outline, remembering that you should ask plenty of questions in order to have a rich bank of raw material to analyse in your Report.
It’s up to you how many questions you ask, and it’s good idea to have more than you think you will need in case your interviewee can’t answer some of them. Most students go into the interview “armed” with between 20 and 30 questions ready to ask!
What form should an interview take?
There are several ways you can conduct an interview that will provide you with detailed information for your discussion. In general, giving an interviewee a questionnaire to fill out, either on paper or over email, is adequate, but not ideal – it doesn’t give you much space to follow up with the interviewee, is dependent on their written communication skills, and will result in brief comments that are less useful for integrating into your...
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