The Art of The Oral Historian- 2

Verification Is Heart of Oral History

Mohammad Jamshidi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


The following is a continuation of a translation and summary of David Russell's The Art of Oral Historians. This text, taken from University of California's Santa Barbara Library Website, is result of his practical workshop on oral history.

The interview should be where the subject chooses; and if possible in a room away from the telephone and television and anything that interferes with recording process. Ideally, the interview should not exceed one hour and should not be more than once a week. Immediately after conducting the interview, implement it and make the implemented text accessible to the subject.

Initial tasks

1) The narrator should be on the agenda
Contact the interviewee the day before the appointment to see if he or she is in good situation, or if he or she asks you to read an article or text for the interview.
2) Work with the tape recorder

You must be enough familiar with the tape recorder. Many interviewees are uncomfortable with being interviewed, and the introduction [characteristics] at the beginning of the recorder can reinforce this feeling. Thus, there is an environment in which the subject keeps his guard until end of the talk.
3) Record a specific introduction
Record a specific introduction before leaving your office. The introduction should include full name of the narrator, your name, the location, date and time of the interview: "This is tape two in the oral history of Carl R. Rogers. The interview was conducted by David E. Russell at the Rogers' residence in La Jolla, California on June 2, 1985 at approximately 10 AM."

Set up the equipment

The recording levels are very important and this should be clear at your first visit. You also need to determine the location of the interview at the same time. This will help you determine if you need a long cable or microphone.

Make a friendly relationship with the subject
Interviewing is not a mechanical practice. You have to gain the trust of the subject; this is no duplicity. Keep an eye contact and listen the narrator seriously as if he or she answers your questions.

Don't note the interview!
Avoid taking notes during the recording session. This will impair your focus on the subject. The narrator may realize that you are not interested in this argument.

Turn on the recorder

There are tape recorders that warn when the battery is low. If so, you can take a break to the interviewee and start again. Also, if the interviewee is sick or elderly give him or her a break. The interviewer must be aware of the narrator's physical and psychological needs.

Finishing the interview

Turn off the tape recorder. Don't worry about not covering all the topics. Experience will help you; since interviewing is an art, it improves with practice. Keep in mind that oral history creates the original documentary source, not a piece for radio and television. It is difficult to answer all the questions in one hour. If you need more time, schedule a second interview.


Verification is heart of oral history. Times, names and descriptions of events all should be controlled to solidify the final citation. If there are fundamental inconsistencies in the implemented text, tell the narrator and let him/her speak in the complementary interview. He may be right. If he reveals strong evidence, you have to correct the text.

Interview outline
1) Make eye contact. LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN!
2) Be non-judgmental. Don't let your research show.
3) Create a nonthreatening, comfortable environment.
4) Ask questions that require more than "yes" or "no" answers.
5) Just ask one question every time.
6) Ask short questions.

7) Don't start with controversial questions and leave them for the final parts of the interview.
8) Don't let a short silence make you nervous.
9) Don't worry if your questions aren't worded as you like.
10) Do not disturb a good story because of thinking about a question, or because the narrator has deviated from the planned line.
11) Try to place the focus of the interview where the narrator was or played a role in the incident. This allows you to know how much he/she has gained as an eyewitness and how much has heard from others.
12) Don't challenge what you think is wrong.
13) Try to conduct the interview with one narrator.

The process of moving from recording to printing

1) Tape Implementation

A) Copy the tape. The original file should never be used for implementation because in this process the file may be damaged.
B) Write a summary on the tape. Summary writing is an important part of the interview process. This is not just assist you about reviewing the interview but also show what parts have been omitted or what sentences have not been correctly implemented.
2) Editing implemented text
A) Review the implemented text and listen to the voice simultaneously.
B) Check the left names and dates. Most of the names and dates can be found in your preliminary research files.
C) Keep the dialogue tone and spontaneity of the interview. The narrators 'speaking pattern and tone should overcome the editors' attempt to structure the sentences. Don't destroy the dialogue!
D) Ask the narrator to read the implemented version, but the review process should not lead to rewriting the text because that's what they often do.
E) Correct any mistake the narrator finds in the implemented version.

Ethical responsibilities
Oral history texts are subject to copyright law. Their ownership is determined by an oral history contract. This does not apply to individual researchers, historians, anthropologists, and sociologists interviewing the narrator and using the narratives with their own consent, but for those whose work is implementing the narrator's words.
1) Release form
A) The publication form protects interests of the subject. It is important to go beyond the limited expressions in the release form. You have to tell the subject to follow the law and some of his words may not be published in public release. Talk to him about restrictions.
B) Most research libraries require a publication form before accepting an oral history collection.
2) Issues
Sometimes part of the interview should not be published. Whether where the narrator unintentionally expresses some sensitive personal issues, where he/she says is not satisfied what she/he has said to be published, or even where she/he gives very important information about a person or event but It would cause to being proceeded against  by others.
3) Litigation

It is important to remember that the signed release form is not excepted to being proceeded.
Create an oral history archive
Oral histories are primitive documents and are usually housed in research libraries as a set of interviews. The size of an oral history collection can range from one individual to large projects with hundreds of separate interviews. Large projects need to go through steps to be archived.
1) List of contents of oral history collection
A. The interview process history - This should cover three to five pages of your research, from narrator data to topics that the narrator declined to talk about and any other issues that arise in the interview process. The location of the interview should also be described and mention age and healthy situation of the narrator and so on.
B) Copy of the signed release form
C) Review the interview and treatment
D) implemented voices which haven't been edited.
E) Edited version.
2) Maintenance of tape collections
Use a duplicate tape for implementation. Once implemented, this file can be made available to supporters and employers who want to listen to it.

Tape Log
Name: ... / Project: ... / Date of Interview: ... / Location: ... / Time: ... / Interviewee: ...

The release form
I, Carl Rogers, hand over my intellectual property rights and copyright of my oral history, The Quiet Revolutionary to the University of California, Santa Barbara a quid pro quo their efforts to maintain and make it accessible to researchers.
Proviso: ... / Signature: ... / Date: ... / Witnesses: ...

Oral History Release Form
Hereby, I, Carl Rogers, assign the intellectual property right and copyright of my interview tapes, which were conducted in twelve months since December 1986 to the Donald Davidson Library for its effort to preserve my interviews and make it accessible to the researchers.
Narrator's Name: ... / Address: ... / Interviewer's Name: ... / Address: ... / Date of Agreement: ... / Narrator's Signature: ... / Interviewer's Signature: ... / Type Topic: ...


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