Monday, 23 January 2012

Oral History Interview

As part of my Public History MA, I had to conduct an oral history interview over Christmas. I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My chosen interviewee was a friend and neighbour, so perhaps this was one of the reasons why I found it so difficult. Regardless, I sincerely hope no one ever listens to my “attempt” at oral history, which is a shame because my interviewee is one of the most interesting people I have ever met, someone who has the best stories about every single possible subject you can imagine. As soon as I turned on the recorder, everything I had learned for the past three months went completely out of the window. Luckily, my interviewee was a good talker so the interview does contain some great stories but this was not down to me at all.

I was also nervous about asking certain questions. The interviewee’s husband had died a couple of years ago, and I was reluctant to delve too deep into this subject for fear of upsetting her. I had not asked these questions in an informal sitting, so I didn’t want to ask her with a recorder sat between us. On the other hand, there were lots of questions I could have asked, if I had not been so flustered and actually focused on my interview schedule. When my interviewee was talking about her school life, she mentioned she had been educated in Germany in the early 1950’s. If I had known about this beforehand, I could have made so much more of this in the interview. Post-war Germany would have been a fascinating subject to cover - unfortunately the last time I studied this was a short module on the Cold War in college, one that mainly focused on Russia and America. So all I could muster at the time was “did you notice any anti-British feeling?” Embarrassing.

I also discovered that I hate the sound of my own voice. This, coupled with way too much nervous laughter, signalled the end of a potential career in oral history. While it was only my first attempt, I think I would need a fair bit of practice before I was fully confident. A shame really, as my main strength is the ability to talk to people.

The result of this project? Huge respect for journalists and news readers.

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