Oral History Toolkit

This toolkit provides basic information for conducting a successful unit history project in collaboration with the EVA initiative. To start a project that will eventually transfer to the archives, please contact us for a full consultation.

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Project Scope
Interview Topics
Interviewer Instructions
Sample Release Forms
Metadata
Recording Tips
Resources

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Project Scope

The following is a list of areas you might want to explore but you certainly should not feel restricted to these:

  • General Alumni Outreach
  • Special Occasion Documentation
  • Routine College/Departmental Documentation
  • Student Experiences
  • Staff Experiences
  • Faculty Experiences

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Interview Topics

Develop interview topics to support your project goals. Brainstorm about the information you’re trying to collect and come up with a list of topics and corresponding questions.

For some suggestions, see the EVA Suggested Questions page and the LAS Storyography list below:

Education Through the Decades

  • Stories Your Great-Grandparents Told You
  • A Family Illini Tradition
  • 1913-1920
  • 1921-1939
  • 1940-1950…

Architectural Wonders

  • Myth Busters
  • Haunted English Building
  • Coffins in Lincoln Hall
  • Egyptian Curse
  • Place Matters
  • Favorite Memories of the Museums
  • First Kiss or Fond Good-byes
  • Memorials

Quad Days

  • What It Means to You
  • Pursuit of Knowledge (faculty perspective)
  • Lighting a Spark
  • New Knowledge
  • The Greatest Moments of my Life
  • Memorable Classroom Moments

The Best Years of Your Life

  • Heartbreaks
  • Saying Goodbye
  • Fears of the First Day, First Test
  • Learning to Live with a Roommate
  • Dreams and Reality—Life after College
  • Teachers I Remember
  • The Most Important Lesson I Learned
  • Love Happens

Life Milestones

  • Journeys
  • Returning From War
  • Fitting In, and Not Fitting In
  • Finding Your Path
  • Life, Death, and Illness
  • First to Go to College
  • What I Wish I’d Told Mom or Dad

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Interviewer Instructions

  1. Develop a list of questions for the interview in collaboration with the individual so you know what topics they want to discuss.
  2. Make sure the recording equipment is set up and working properly.
  3. Minimize noise before and during the interview.
  4. Guide the conversation and make sure it stays on track.
  5. Obtain a photograph of the subject if desired.
  6. Collect release forms and any other paperwork—they can fill these out before you meet or while you set up the equipment.

Equipment Checklist

  • Recorder
  • Microphones (2)
  •  Headphones
  • SD card
  • Power cord or batteries
  • Extension cord
  • Clipboard for note-taking
  • Digital camera (if desired)

Before the Interview

  1. Have the interviewee fill out release forms.
  2. Make sure the location of your room is quiet enough to record in (avoid buzzing fluorescent lights, a/c, and ticking clocks). Mute cell phones.
  3. Set up and test the recording equipment.
  4. Test and playback before the official interview begins by asking an irrelevant question like, “What did you have for breakfast?”
  5. Check volume levels.
  6. Remember to press RECORD again when you begin the actual interview.

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Sample Release Forms

These forms are provided to give you an idea of the information that should be included. Please feel free to tailor yours to your project’s needs. It should indicate to participants that these materials will eventually be transferred to the archives and will be made publicly available.

EVA Agreement (click to download PDF)
Storyography Participant Release Form (click to download PDF)

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Metadata

Collect project metadata in Excel spreadsheets and save then along with the project files for eventual transfer to the archives along with all other documentation. You can save different kinds of media in different spreadsheets but it’s not necessary to create a new file to go along with every item collected. The following is a list of recommended fields:

Text documents: file name*, department name, project name, title, author name, date, file type (DOCX, PDF, etc.), file size

Photographs: file name, department name, project name, photographer’s name (if known), brief description of content, subject(s), location, date, file type (JPG, TIF, etc.), file size

Audio: file name, department name, project name, title, interviewee name, interviewer name (if appropriate), location, date, file type (WAV, MP3, etc.), file size

Video: file name, department name, project name, title, interviewee name, interviewer name (if appropriate), location, date, file type (MPEG, MOV, etc.), file size

*You should develop a set of file naming conventions so files can be easily sorted and accessed. If you would like assistance or advice about this, please contact us.

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Recording Tips

From the Oral History Association:

Use AC power if available, but keep freshly charged batteries in the recorder during recording. The accidental “unplugging” of digital recorders during an interview can result in the loss of the digital file. The batteries can serve as a backup.

Use a good, external microphone. The better the microphone, the better the quality of the recording. An inexpensive field recorder with a good mic can produce a better recording than an expensive field recorder with a poor built-in microphone. Although some built-in mics now produce much better sound than they used to, external microphones continue to yield a better recording. Recorders with on board microphones must still be placed in between the interviewer and interviewee. The greater the distance a microphone is placed away from the sounds to be recorded the noisier the recording.

Record as uncompressed wav files at a minimum quality setting of 16-bit/44.1KHz

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Resources

Oral History Resource Links:

International Oral History Association
Oral History Association (US)
Oral History Association Wiki (US)
Holocaust Memorial Museum (US)
Digital Omnium

Sample Interview Questions:

Library of Congress Story Corps: Topical questions
The Jewish Women’s Archive: 20 Questions to Ask the Important Women in Your Life
Vermont Folklife Center: Documenting a disaster
Geneology.com: Broad range of suggested topics and questions

Recording Tools:

Audacity 1.3.14 (BETA)
iPhone Built-In Voice Memos
Voxie Pro Recorder by Bottle Rocket
Dragon Recorder

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    Archives Research Center
    1707 S. Orchard St.
    Urbana, IL 61801

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  • Contact Us

    Email: Ellen Swain at eswain@illinois.edu
    Phone: (217) 333-7841

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