Story and Why
Let's Talk About
Throughout the Ages, oral history was the traditional way people
learned about their ancestors. Nowadays, it is rare to use this method
to pass on your family history. But, it can be a wonderful way to do so!
Think of the impact of
hearing the voices of relatives, especially those who lived long before
you, telling about their lives and their experiences. You get the
opportunity to hear them, in their own voices and with the unique
nuances of their personality, describe the most significant events of
It's like time traveling.
As you might imagine, the retelling of military
experiences can be extremely powerful. Veterans are often kidded about
telling their “war stories”, but let’s
face it, these experiences had a lasting impact on these veterans and
sharing those experiences allows others to understand how important
they are to them. Of course, these are invaluable history lessons for
An ongoing effort to preserve their stories, the Veterans
History Project, is directed by the American
Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.
This is an
excellent oral-history project (the Association of Personal Historians
is now affiliated and helping) and you can learn more about it here.
***Note: Think about the
many members of the Armed Services currently oversees in areas like
Afghanistan and Iraq. They will have experiences that need to be
remembered and preserved, not to glorify them, but to tell their story.****
This photo taken Damir Sagolj - Reuters News
Service - shows something we normally don't see in media pictures from
Iraq, a poignant moment with a soldier and child.
there are many ways
to preserve your family history or tell your life story. This doesn't
mean that oral history should be discounted. On the contrary, the
improvement of recording equipment and the ability to transfer digital
recordings to a computer and make a CD or DVD keepsake make audio
recordings a terrific format.
you want to capture people's stories by interviewing them you
probably are interested in what kind of portable digital audio recorder
you should invest in.
a big topic. There's quite a lot to choose from.
Much of the decision depends on 1) how much interviewing and
recording you are doing and 2) what you can afford to spend.
If you are just doing it for your friends and family (and probably not
business) you can get away with using one of the less expensive models.
An example is the Olympus VN-4100PC Digital Voice Recorder.
You can find it for less than $50.
If you are recording for an organization or need to preserve the oral
histories and quality standards are important then you will be looking
at more advanced models. Some of the standard professional
are Marantz, Tascam, Zoom, Edirol, Fostex and Sony. And, yes, Olympus
some higher end models, too.
The good news is that digital audio
recording advances continue to be
impressive, and like computers, they seem to be getting better and
better without big increases in price.
I recently purchased the Tascam DR-40. It has a number of excellent
features, is compact enough for traveling and does a terrific job. It's
also a lot of "bang for the buck". I purchased mine for just under $200.
You'll want to consider how much recording time your device can handle,
the microphones (built in as well as input options), what format the
files are preserved in, how they transfer to a computer, the size of
the device...and these are just a few considerations. Don't
let it overwhelm you. With the Internet it is relatively easy
to research, shop and compare.
Here are some helpful sites to give you more information, compare
brands, equipment and price:
Of course once you upload your recordings to a computer you will need
to transcribe, and maybe even edit, your oral histories. Once
again, there are many software options. I find that the free
- you can get it here.
You Let the
When you prepare to record an oral history consider
the setting. You
want the person you interview to be comfortable and ready to talk. You
want to be prepared with your questions. Make sure there aren't going
to be unnecessary interruptions.
“Good Times Roll”...Prepare!
Avoid background noise. Check for open windows, the hum of a
refrigerator, or noisy ceiling fans or air conditioning. Turn off the
phone ringer. Make sure you aren't getting background noise like pets.
Chirping birds or an occasional barking dog may not seem like a big
deal at the time, but will be annoying when you playback the recording.
If you are seated at a table make sure the microphone is closest to the
person you are getting the story from. If the table is glass covered or
hard surface put a blanket or table cloth down to absorb sound. In
addition, some rooms can have an echo, like the kitchen.
For higher quality recording consider using a lavalier
clipped to a lapel or clothing near the head of the person being
interviewed (note: for this method you are probably using two
microphones, one for the subject and the other for the person
conducting the interview, so you will need a recorder with
inputs, or a splitter).
Test out the recorder with some normal conversation first and then play
it back to see how it sounds. Make adjustments as necessary.
You also might need to coach the person you are interviewing. People
can often trail off at the end of their sentences, particularly when
recalling sensitive or emotional memories. Politely remind them to
speak clearly and slowly.
You can learn more about oral history through the Oral
about the "art" of digital story telling,
including how it can be used in education and business with this article at
StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire Americans to
record each other's stories in sound. They are an independent nonprofit
Over the past few years StoryCorps has made great strides and even been
recognized with the prestigious journalistic Peabody Award (in 2007).
The project has also caught the attention of the media, including
National Public Radio.
Get additional helpful information at:
of Personal Historians
A member directory, many helpful articles and information about
personal history preservation.
What is Oral History? How can I use oral history? The Oral History
Society gives lots of great information.
to Your Life Is Your Story Home Page
Everybody has a story to tell!
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