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November 16th, 2020

Oral History Basics

"An oral history is created in a recorded interview setting, using a structured and well researched interview outline, with a witness to or a participant in a historical event.

The goal of collecting an oral history is to record and preserve a person’s firsthand account of the event and make it available to researchers.


Oral history can be very helpful in communities where events have not been well documented or the written records are distorted.  These projects can benefit the entire community by bringing people together to rebuild and capture a moment in time for future generations.

Key Elements of Oral History:​​​

Careful attention to copyright and other legal and ethical issues.

A structured, well researched interview format.

A controlled, recorded interview setting.

A collection of first-hand information.

The use of high quality sound or video equipment.

Adherence to careful processing techniques.

Provisions for making interviews available at an accessible repository.

A good oral history tries to include:

  • Many voices – not just the dominant perspective that traditionally controls the narrative in records.

  • A unique perspective – understand not just what happened, but how the teller understood what happened and what they think about it.

  • Structured questions that are well thought-out.

  • Necessary background research.



As geographers/scientists we look at the world from a spatial or place perspective.  Everything and every place can be looked at geographically!


Download and review the Field Model For Studying Place as a way to think about the relationship of your storyteller to the place and time they are sharing with you.

       To conduct a real oral history interview, it is important to practice ethical reporting techniques. One important step is to get signed permission from your interviewee to use their account as a piece of oral history. Just as stories are valuable parts of our cultural identity, they are also important parts of our personal identities and should be treated with care.


Use the following template to help your storytellers

understand their rights and permissions:


I, (interviewee's full name), hereby give and grant to (your county) County School District the absolute and unqualified right to the use of my oral history memoir conducted by (student's full name) on (date of interview). I understand that the purpose of this project is to collect audio- and video- taped oral histories of first-hand memories of a particular period or event in history as part of a classroom project.

I understand that these interviews (digital recordings, transcripts and images) will be deposited in a(your countyCounty School District school library and archives for the use by future students, educators and researchers.  Copies of these interviews may also be stored at the (your countyCounty Public Library.  Responsibility for reproduction, distribution, display, and the creation of derivative works will be at the discretion of the librarian, archivist and/or project coordinator.  I also understand that the digital recordings and transcriptions may be used in public presentations including, but not limited to, books, audio or video documentaries, slide- tape presentations, exhibits, articles, public performance, or presentation on the World Wide Web at the project’s web site or successor technologies.

In making this contract I understand that I am convening to the schools of the (your county) County School District libraries and archives all legal title and literary property right which I have or may be deemed to have in my interview as well as my right, title and interest in any copyright related to this oral history interview which may be secured under the laws now or later in force and effect in the United States of America.  This gift, however, does not preclude any use that I myself want to make of the information in these transcripts and recordings.

I herein warrant that I have not assigned or in any manner encumbered or impaired any of the aforementioned rights in my oral memoir.  The only conditions which I place on the unrestricted gift are:





Signature of Interviewee/Donor


Type or Print Name












Previously on #FLGeoWeek:

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