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Special Collections & University Archives: Oral History Background Research

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Oral History Background Research

Background research is essential preparation for conducting oral history interviews. It ensures the interviewer is not only familiar with the narrator (interviewee) but also the subject matter prior to the recorded interview. Researching subject matter ahead of time provides the appropriate context for the cultural and/or historical significance of the interview, informs the interview questions, and shapes the tone of the conversation.

From the OHA Best Practices: "In preparing to ask informed questions, interviewers should become familiar with the person, topic, and historical context by doing research in primary and secondary sources, as well as through social engagement with individuals and communities and informal one-on-one interactions."

Considerations for Background Research:

  • Narrator demographics (who, what, when, where, how)
  • Lived experiences of the narrator
  • Incidents and events of historical significance
  • Unique perspective and testimony

Resources for Background Research:

  • Published accounts (books, newspapers, online resources, other interviews...)
  • Unpublished accounts (military records, diaries, letters, writings...)
  • Objects and artifacts (photographs, memorabilia, awards...)

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