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Oral History Collaborations and Project Resources

An overview and resource list for oral history projects held in collaboration with Atkins Library Special Collections.

How do You Do Oral History?

Oral history is a complex research methodology that takes time and practice to master. It is recommended that you access the many resources listed in this research guide to prepare for your oral history project. You can also reach out for our direct support to help you develop your oral history interviewing skills by filling out the Atkins Library Oral History Collaboration Request Form.



The following is a brief overview for conducting oral histories:


  1. Define the historical problem you are investigating and set the goals of your project.
  2. Research your project thoroughly so you understand the general history and can ask meaningful questions of your interviewees/ narrators.
  3. Develop a question guide that highlights topics you want to cover. Focus on open ended questions that allow your narrators to explore their recollections. Plan to be flexible and responsive during the interview and expect to ask many follow up questions.
  4. Be aware of your own cultural assumptions, values and attitudes, and monitor your biases throughout the whole process.
  5. Decide who you would like to interview and build your interviewee/narrator pool--this can take quite a while, so plan early and reach out for assistance with making contacts. 

Forms for Oral History Projects

The consent and release form:

  • Informs interviewees/narrators about the oral history process and how their oral history recording will be used
  • Obtains permission from interviewees/narrators to share their interview with the public
  • Establishes copyright ownership of the interview 

Without the consent and release form oral history interviews have limited value and cannot be archived. 

Interviewee/narrator biographical form:

The biographical form:

  • Establishes accurate information about an interviewee/narrator
  • Helps the interviewer become familiar with the interviewee/narrator before the interview
  • Assists with cataloging interviews that are archived 


Creating Forms:

For creating forms we suggest that you consult the following book:


There are many choices for digital recording, whether your interviews are in person or virtual. It is very important to choose wisely for your project and to become comfortable and confident with your recording equipment. Your goal should be the best sound quality possible.


  • Choose the best option for your budget or borrow quality equipment 
  • Sound quality matters--good sound quality allows for better long term preservation and accessibility and is essential for creating exhibits, podcasts, or documentaries
  • Take time to PRACTICE using your recording equipment to become comfortable with the equipment--this will also put your narrators at ease

The following websites will help you research recording equipment:

Oral History in the Digital Age --see Ask Doug

Baylor Institute for Oral History --see Oral History Resources

Atkins Library loans out quality recording equipment. The service point for technology loans is in Area 49 on the second floor of the library.

The Interview

  1. There is no exact time period for the duration of an oral history interview, but a rule of thumb is between one hour and ninety minutes. Be aware of your narrator’s energy level and look for signs of fatigue, distraction, or boredom. For life histories in particular it may be best to plan for more than one session.
  2. Throughout the interview it is important to keep an eye on the recording equipment from time to time, but remember to keep your main attention on your narrator.
  3. At the beginning of the interview record the date, place, reason for the interview, your name as the interviewer and the name of the interviewee/narrator. You may wish to have the narrator introduce themselves also. 
  4. Throughout the interview remember to be respectful of your narrator. Be aware of your narrator’s comfort, especially if they are recalling events that they found traumatic. Be ready to pause the recording if your narrator needs a break.
  5. Interviews can be autobiographical or topical, but it is a good idea to begin all interviews by asking the narrator to talk about their background and establish context for their lives.
  6. Remember that your narrator is the expert about their own lives. Use your question guide to keep the interview on track, but remember to be flexible. Your narrator may address some topics before you introduce them and that’s ok. Don’t interrupt your narrator as they relate their story. Jot down any follow up questions you want to ask so that you don’t forget. Give your narrator time to give full and thoughtful answers as they reflect on their lived experiences. Some of the best, most rewarding parts of an interview may be totally unanticipated.
  7. Listen carefully and don’t be afraid of silences. Remember this is not a conversation. Give your narrator non verbal cues such as head nods, smiles, eye contact, to show that you are listening and interested in their story. Keep verbal cues short and neutral, and don’t argue with the narrator if you disagree with something they are saying. 
  8. Avoid leading questions that will elicit a yes or no answer. Ask open ended questions and use straightforward language that is easily understood. It is good to start with more concrete questions first and then explore feelings and values. Useful opening phrases:
    1. Tell me about…
    2. What did you think about…
    3. Describe your experiences with…
    4. What do you recall about…
    5. How did it feel when…
  9. Remember that your narrator’s recording will become primary historical evidence as  soon as you end the interview. Consider any wider historical questions that may lay outside the immediate scope for your project, but that would be potentially significant for future researchers.
  10. Always finish the recording by thanking your narrator for their time and effort and making it clear that the interview is finished.
  11. It is a good idea to ask your narrator to send you a photograph of themselves, or to take a photograph of them to accompany the interview. Remember to include permission to release the image in your release document.

After the Interview

  1. As soon as possible after the interview, download your audio/video file(s) and copy them to several secure digital locations (computer, external hard drive, thumb drive, cloud storage). Remember Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS).
  2. Listen to the audio/video file and send a copy to your narrator along with a written thank you note and a copy of the consent and release document for their records. Let your narrator know that you value their time and that you will be a good steward of their story. Keep your communication open with your narrator as you process the interview. 
  3. Depending on how you intend to use the recording, document your interview by creating contextual information: including basic biographical information, technical information about the recording, and descriptive information such as key words, an interview log, index, or full transcript, and a summary of the interview.
  4. Preserve and share your oral histories by depositing them in an archive or repository where other researchers will be able to access the recording. Ideally these arrangements should be made at the outset of your project. 
  5. Keep narrators informed about any archiving arrangements and any particular uses you make of their interview, such as the creation of podcasts, exhibits, or other public sharing platforms.

Resources to get started with oral history

There are numerous reliable online guides, text books, and other resources to assist you in planning and executing your oral history project. Some of these guides are listed below. The best place to start is with the Oral History Association’s Principles and Best Practices: