Our ability to tell stories is something that has connected all of us through time. Telling these stories with intention, trust, and collaboration are a few of the reasons why oral history can be such a dynamic tool in understanding each other and the past. 

While mapping your oral history project, here are some tools and questions to consider at each step of the way:

  • What are the goals of your project?
  • Do you have the tools you need to take on the ethics and consent process?
  • Who would you like to interview? How will you go about finding and connecting with them?
  • What type of interview would you like to have? (A few options could be: life story, topic or event-specific, group interview, walking, mapping, material-based))
  • What kind of questions will you be asking? (We suggest using a fluid approach: identify key questions and allow yourself to ask others that come up in the interview) 
  • How would you like to record your interview? (*You can find 
  • How would you like to share or develop your project once the interview has been conducted? 

Before the interview: 

  1. Connect with your interviewee 
  2. Walk them through the consent process
  3. Consider where you want to do the interview
  4. Collect the necessary historical and contextual information
  5. Prepare and share some of the questions you will be asking your interviewee  (*You can find example questions at the bottom of our ethics page

During the interview:

  • Do your best to be an active and empathetic listener 
  • Practice “deep listening” 
  • Allow them to end on their own terms

After the interview:

  • Check in with how your interviewee is feeling, how they felt about the interview
  • Discuss the next steps
  • Revisit and adjust consent details as needed
  • Thank them for their time and effort
  • How do you feel after the interview? What did you find most interesting, fascinating, or compelling? Did anything surprise you?
  • How did the setting of the interview inform or affect it? (I.e. being on a zoom call vs. in person, the location of the interview)
  • What were some key moments of emotion in the interview, for both you and your interviewee?Were there any difficulties or tensions? (this could be technical, logistical, or emotional) 
  • Is there anything you wished you had asked?
  • Is there something you would do differently the next time you interview?
    • Save your files
      • A crucial post-interview step is to make sure that the consent forms are scanned and that physical copies are stored with respect to the interviewee’s consent and the archival/ethics requirements. 
    • Consider transcribing your interview 
      • With the aural nature of this practice, many historians choose not to transcribe their interviews, as it sometimes takes away from the embodied listening experience. However, should your interviewee request a transcript, COHDS offers transcription tools to make this process a bit easier
    • Consider archiving your files
  • How are you planning on disseminating your findings? 
  • What form would you like them to take? Creative? Academic? Audio-visual art? Material art? 
  • How broad of an audience will you share your findings with? (This may be a complex question depending on the particularities of the ethics involved)

In addition to our expansive Resources and Ethics pages, below you will find a select list of guides and readings that may be useful for students developing their own oral history projects.

Making Sense of Oral History (Linda Shopes, History Matters, 2002)

This website offers introductory avenues to the practice and interpretation of oral history and is intended for students and teachers. It also presents an annotated bibliography, and a guide to finding and using oral history online. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/oral/ 

Disability Oral History Toolkit (Fady Shanouda, Karen K. Yoshida, The Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) Inc., and the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Toronto, 2012)

The “Disability Oral History Toolkit” is a how-to guide, for both community members and academics, on capturing stories from disabled people in diverse disability communities across Canada. To receive the toolkit, you must fill out a short form, after which it will be emailed to you. https://www.cilt.ca/cilt-resources/our-histories/

Remote Interviewing Resources (Oral History Association)

This guide is meant to be a resource to practitioners as they work through the numerous questions that arise with remote interviewing. It includes a decision tree, an accompanying narrative, platform documents and case studies. It also has an accompanying bibliography on interviewing in times of crisis. https://www.oralhistory.org/remote-interviewing-resources/

Decolonial Project Guide (Melanie Shell-Weiss, 2019)

Melanie Shell-Weiss developed a series of seven questions designed to help guide researchers hoping to create decolonial community-based projects.

Shell-Weiss, Melanie. “The power of narrative: A practical guide to creating decolonial, community-based projects.” The essence of academic performance (2019): 1-19. https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/65976

Conducting Desire-Based Research (Eve Tuck, 2009)

Eve Tuck proposes that we move away from research that propagates further damage and instead “interrupt” the flow of existing harmful academic methods by centring narratives that capture the complexities beyond damage. 

Tuck, Eve.”Suspending damage: A letter to communities.” Harvard educational review 79, no. 3 (2009): 409-428. https://pages.ucsd.edu/~rfrank/class_web/ES-114A/Week%204/TuckHEdR79-3.pdf

Queer Oral History (Kevin P. Murphy, Jennifer L. Pierce, and Jason Ruiz, 2016)

Queer methodology has been a driving force behind many important oral history projects. “What Makes Queer Oral History Different” explores the many entangled feelings that emerge when queerness is at the fore of the interview space. 

Murphy, Kevin P., Jennifer L. Pierce, and Jason Ruiz. “What Makes Queer Oral History Different.” The Oral History Review 43, no. 1 (2016): 1–24.