US ARMY GUIDE TO ORAL HISTORY (5)


5. END-OF-TOUR INTERVIEW PROGRAM

The End-of-Tour Interview Program described in AR 870-5 consists of interviews with the principals of the Secretariat and Army Staff, MACOM commanders, commanders of Army specified commands and Army components of unified commands, commandants and deputy commandants of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) schools and of the Army Medical Department Center and School, corps and division commanders, and commanders of theater and corps support commands. The program is designed to collect the experiences of individuals in important positions and to ensure that the information is preserved and available to the Army.

An EOT interview differs little from other official interviews, particularly exit interviews, but the following considerations should be noted:

a. When an individual assumes a position covered by the EOT Program, the appropriate historical office should notify the individual or the appropriate office of the requirement for an EOT interview and request that an individual be designated as the point of contact. This notification also provides an opportunity to request the retention of important documents by either the historian or the interviewee's office. These documents will be useful when developing the topic-question list for the EOT interview.

b. The interviewee's office is responsible for selecting the point of contact (POC) for the EOT interview. The POC should assist the historian with the preparation of the topic-question list, provide pertinent documents, and schedule the interview session. In some cases, the point of contact may also sit in on the interview.

c. To develop a topic-question list, the historian must know the interviewee's tenure in the position about which he or she is to be interviewed. To further assist the historian in developing a topic-question list for an EOT interview, a set of core questions is provided in Appendix F. These questions, however, form only the skeleton of a topic-question list and should be considered only a starting point.

TIP: Use the POC to help develop a topic-question list. One useful technique is to ask the POC for a "Top Ten List" of issues about which the interviewee should be asked. Once you have a draft list, provide a copy to the POC, or someone else in the office, and ask that person to review it. Ask whether you have neglected any significant issues.

d. EOT interviews should be transcribed, edited, and reviewed by both the interviewer and interviewee as soon as is possible. Timely completion of an oral history helps ensure availability for the next individual to occupy that position. Additionally, AR 870-5 requires that the interviewee, the incoming commander, the Center of Military History, the Military History Institute, and the Center for Army Lessons Learned all receive copies. The historian should inform the interviewee that his interview may be sent to other offices. The cover or title page for each EOT interview will contain the following statement: FOR REFERENCE ONLY. NOT TO BE RELEASED OUTSIDE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE ORIGINATING AGENCY.

e. The interviewing historical office will maintain the original tapes, supporting documents, and transcripts. When the historical office can no longer retain these materials, it will transfer them to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, ATTN: DAMH-FPR, 103 Third Avenue, Fort Lesley J. McNair, D.C. 20319-5058. The Center's Oral History Team will catalog the interviews, if that already has not been accomplished.

f. Army historical offices should inform the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) periodically about which EOT interviews have been conducted. The CMH maintains a database of general officers who have been interviewed under the EOT Program. This inventory also serves as a resource for Army historians and other researchers-for example, a historian may learn whether an EOT interview was conducted for a specific individual. Additionally, the Director of Military History uses this information to update the Army Chief of Staff on the EOT Program. This report necessitates input from historical offices concerning the status of their EOT interviews. Historical offices encountering difficulty in securing agreement to conduct EOT interviews should contact CMH and request assistance.

6. VIDEO-RECORDING INTERVIEWS AND
GROUP INTERVIEWS

The availability and ease of use of video-recorders have created additional opportunities for historians charged with collecting data. Video records not just the words and sounds of an interview, but also captures the facial expressions and nonverbal communication of interviewees. The result is a richer historical source. Interviews that are recorded on video also can be used by museums in creating historical displays.
Although the preparation for a video interview (i.e., contact, scheduling, and preparation of a topic-question list) is the same as for audio interviews, there are other considerations. A prospective interviewee should be asked about video-recording prior to the interview. Do not spring a surprise on the interviewee. Additionally, a video interview requires two people: one to ask the questions and run the interview, and the other to record the interview. Decide beforehand how to "shoot" the interview. For example, should both interviewer and interviewee face the camera, or should the camera remain focused on the interviewee? While either option is appropriate at times, remember that the purpose of the interview is to record the responses of the interviewee, not the interviewer. Video-recording is also the best way to record a group interview because identifying individual speakers is easier. Transcribing a group interview for which there is only a sound recording often is an exercise in frustration as the transcriber struggles to identify each speaker.
Conducting individual interviews is always preferred. Group interviews are difficult to record and harder to control for reasons ranging from the sheer number of individuals involved (many of whom will want to speak at the same time) to the fact that shy individuals are often inhibited from speaking.

Nevertheless, time and logistical considerations often require interviewing groups. In such cases, try to limit the number of participants as much as possible and ensure that two historian-interviewers are present. One historian will concentrate on leading the discussion, asking the questions, and ensuring that everyone is involved. If one or two individuals start to dominate the session, the historian should involve others by directing questions to them. The second historian will focus on taking interview notes, particularly identifying speakers and noting jargon and terms that later will require identification or explanation in the edited transcript. If a third individual is available, that person should observe the participants and examine their reactions. By reading body language and other nonverbal cues, the observing historian often can identify soldiers who have something substantive to contribute but will remain quiet unless someone prompts them.
Group interviews are more work than individual interviews, but they also can provide historians with more information. Group interviews often generate their own momentum as individuals react to the comments and observations of others, remember potentially important details, and offer corrections-or, at least, differing positions-to the statements of others. While exaggeration is less likely to occur in a group environment, the opposite-excessive modesty-may become more of an issue. Some individuals may be reluctant to take credit for actions or ideas in front of friends and colleagues out of concern that doing so will be viewed as bragging. Additionally, sometimes as a particular "story" develops during an interview, interviewees, in the spirit of camaraderie, may downplay or ignore their own opinions, perspectives, and experiences if they differ from the developing "group story." The resultant silence can hide potentially significant information from the historian, who may complete the interview unaware that there is a different way of explaining events. Although there is no perfect solution to these issues that stem from group dynamics, by being aware of their possibility the historian can take various steps. The historian should watch for potential signs of a different story-this is the purpose of reading body language, as noted above. Another profitable technique is to conduct group interviews only after individual interviews that allow the historian to determine where the inconsistencies lie in the various accounts. If that is not an option, the historian can follow up a group interview with one-on-one interviews with selected individuals. These interviews can be used both to pursue additional information and to ask the individual about the content of the group interview.

TIP: Audio group interviews create problems for the transcriber by hiding the identity of the speaker. Interviewees will not remember to identify themselves each time before speaking. If a group interview is not videotaped, historians must engage in the labor intensive method of outlining the interview and identifying each speaker as he or she participates in the conversation. Noting everything that is said is not necessary, but enough should be written so that the transcriber can identify each speaker.

Post-interview actions should be the same as with other interviews. Be sure to duplicate the recording and store the two copies separately. Many outside transcribers will gladly provide transcripts of video interviews; those that specialize in this area can provide a transcript that is keyed to the running time of the interview, although there likely will be an additional charge for doing so.

To be continued…
By: Stephen J. Lofgren
Center of Military History, United States Army
Washington, D.C, 2006



 
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