© 2016 Joseph Heathcott

Oral History

As a graduate student at Indiana University, I studied interview methods at the Oral History Research Center (now the Center for the Study of History and Memory) and the Labor Studies Institute (now the Department of Labor Studies). My first project with the Labor Studies Institute in 1996-1997 was a multi-city study of the impact of industrial change on unions in Indiana.  I traveled around the State interviewing workers, shop stewards, labor council members, and municipal officials.  Back then I used a TASCAM Portable Cassette Recorder.  These days I use a TEAC Digital Linear Field Recorder.  


Oral history and other kinds of ethnographic interview methods can be very powerful research tools, with the potential to illuminate realms of human experience not caputred in archival materials, statistical data, or other sources.  But they do not simply yield unambiguous truths about the past.  Rather, people form and relate memories within a web of influences.  Memory, or at least the telling of memory, is at once idiosyncratic and discursive, personal and social.

Oral History methods come with a well-established set of professional protocals and ethics to protect human subjects from harm.  Researchers deploying oral history and other interview methods should take a relevant course or set of courses before entering the field.  If a course is not available, researchers should prepare themselves by reading books, consulting experts, practicing with peers, reviewing protocols, and developing a full plan.

Below are links to useful resources in conducitng oral history research.  Here you can find sample forms, equipment reviews, how-to and practice videos, bibliographies, and other resources.