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Oral History:
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Philosophy

Why oral history? Alice Hoffman, an oral historian and women’s labor advocate, said in her book, Labor Education for Women, "The oral history process unearths natural historians in diverse settings. Used as a teaching device, it can enhance a woman's capacity to see significance in her own past and to communicate it to others. It can enable a person to recover, preserve and interpret the past, rather than have it interpreted for or imposed upon her.”

Women’s work has traditionally been confined to unwaged family work or to low-waged work with little prestige. Because of this, historians haven't taken a real keen interest in the women’s work experience. Women themselves haven’t had time to interpret their own work experience as most have held double-responsibility for waged work outside the home and the majority of unwaged work within the home, (child care, elder care, housework, etc.).

Oral history allows women to interpret the experience and meaning they have found in their own work history. It encourages understanding and identification among women through the recognition of common experience and beliefs.

Oral History -- The Basics

Purpose

For each woman to recover, preserve, interpret, and substantiate her life work

Challenges hierarchical and biased historical interpretation

Records a primary and unbiased account of events and experiences

Due to waged and unwaged work responsibilities, women have rarely had time to document their own history


Preparation

test the equipment, bring extra batteries and tape

interview guidelines / questions

locate a few props (newspaper articles, magazines, photos, etc...)

paper and pen

legal release form (PDF)

Oral History Facilitation
Sample Questions (PDF)
Techniques

After the Interview
Outline: by minutes and topic

Edit and Transcribe

Return: copy (not original) of outline and transcript to interviewee for her to edit

Final Edit: based on interviewee requirements

Final Copy: three copies needed: self; interviewee; MNWW Oral HIstory Collection

Four General Types

Biographical: gather information about the life work experiences of one individual

Event: to gather information about a historical event

Topical: to gather information about a specific theme

Combination: a combination of these approaches

Definitions

Oral History Interpreter
Oral history is an active process in which a person discusses her/his life history and analyzes whatever significance and purpose they found within their experiences. Because of their active role, the term “interpreter,” is more accurate than the passive term, “interviewee.” An interviewee connotes an image of rote drill: question/response, question/response; an interpreter responds on the next level of analyzing what their experience meant to them and placing it within sociological and historical context.

Oral History Facilitator
Throughout the oral history process, primacy must be placed upon the oral history life interpreter. Because of this the term “facilitator” instead of “interviewer” is more appropriate. The term “facilitator" encompasses a more purposeful nature. A good oral history facilitator facilitates an oral history life interpreter to share freely of their experiences and insight, and to analyze them accordingly.