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How to do an Oral History

Step 2 - Initial meeting with narrator

An initial meeting may be critical in developing rapport with the narrator. It can help ensure the narrator is relaxed during the interview and able to respond openly and honestly to your questions. This meeting can also allow you to asses how strong the narrator's memories are, and what kind of a storyteller they are. This evaluation helps you determine the type of questions to ask.

For some, particularly an elderly narrator, having memory cues creates a stronger interview. The human brain works similar to the computer. When the computer loads a program, slowly it appears on the screen. The human brain also brings in memories, sometimes slowly with some help of memory cues. Memory cues can be old photos, scrapbooks, awards or metals, heirlooms. If appropriate, ask the family or narrator to have some memory cues at the interview. Sometimes an automobile ride to a previous home or work site with your recorder can trigger additional memories.

Next step: 3 - Research topics/period of the narrator's life

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