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.
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.
Most smartphones can do a decent recording for you.
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.
Years ago I 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, but you will need to shop around for your best deal.
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.
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, such as
- you can get it here.
And there are companies who will do the transcription for you. Often
personal historians have contacts with providers and bundle in the
cost of the transcriptions as part of their service.
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 how to do oral history through the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Or you might want to check out Voice of Witness, which has a section on the art of oral history.
Some people are master storytellers. Studs Terkel was a great example. Check out this article from thenation.com.
In most families there is someone who typically is a good storyteller.
Try approaching them about recording some of those gems from the family
StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire Americans to
record each other's stories in sound. Over the past several 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, and they partner with National Public Radio(NPR).
to Your Life Is Your Story Home Page
Everybody has a story to tell!
Copyright © 2003 - 2022 All