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Oral History Interviewing Methods & Project Management: Home

Introduction

The Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) at Oregon State University Libraries is home to an active and well-established oral history program that is populated by collections from long ago, collections that SCARC faculty have created, and collections built by external partners. This guide is meant to serve as a resource for individuals who are interested in working with SCARC as an external partner. It assumes that the reader is already enthusiastic about collecting oral history interviews, but needs help with one or more aspects of the process. Importantly, the guide also details some of the specifics that we ask of our external partners if they wish to deposit their content with SCARC.

In addition to what is presented here, we encourage you to look at our Oral History Program homepage for more information on the collections and digital resources that we have curated over time, as well as the history of oral interviewing at OSU.

Lastly, you'll see that we frequently use the word “narrator” throughout this guide. This term is commonly used by oral historians to refer to individuals who might also be called “interviewees.”

A Note on Alternative Interviewing Models

What follows in this guide is a framing on interviewing methodology that reflects the training, experience and (generally speaking) practice of the SCARC Oral History Program, but it is important to note that there are many oral historians who feel strongly about taking approaches that are very different from what is introduced here.

The interviewing style predominantly described in this resource is the 1-1 Model, which centers around a 90/10 exchange between narrator and interviewer. That said, two alternative approaches that might be a good match for your project are the StoryCorps Model and the Story Circle Model. 

  • In the StoryCorps Model, the narrator and the interviewer usually have a pre-existing relationship, and the interviewer lines become blurred. These types of sessions tend to be more conversational and self-managed.
  • In the Story Circle Model, a group of people, aided by a facilitator, share stories about their experiences on a given topic, theme, prompt, or small set of questions. 

Each of these techniques is effective in its own way, and both can be mixed, matched and adapted as well. For example, you might choose to organize a story circle first and then interview some of the participants individually at a later date or vice versa. But no matter what approach you choose, one of your most important considerations is to select a model that works well for the types of stories you wish to document and also fits with the desires of the community members involved in your project.