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Oral history

Planning an oral history programme

The Oral History Society have published advice and information on oral history interviewing during coronavirus.

It is important to set out why you want to collect oral history recordings, particularly if you are applying for project funding.

Before you begin, establish clear aims, and define outputs.

Questions to think about beforehand include:

  • What are your reasons for running the programme, and how will you know if it's successful?
  • What kind of people are you hoping to interview, and how many interviews can you capture, both with your current resources and with further funding?
  • Think about what you will do with the recordings – will you use them in exhibitions or online?
  • How you will provide access to the recordings, bearing in mind the recordings may contain sensitive content and personal information?

Write down a statement that answers these questions. For example, your project aim could be to create a resource for researching your local village since 1940 (you could also use extracts from the interviews in an exhibition, a heritage trail, or as the basis of a publication or series of blog posts). Your outputs could be to record twenty oral histories covering a variety of community voices. You will use selected clips from the interviews in an online exhibition, and the recordings will be available for researchers to access in your research space (with some sections being closed for sensitivity issues).

Depositing oral history recordings

Some community archives choose to entrust the long-term preservation of oral history recordings, and the provision of public access, with an established heritage institution, such as the Norfolk Record Office (NRO).

At the NRO we can provide advice and support, including templates for participation, and recording agreements (we will require completed copies of these).

It is important to contact us as soon as you start to plan your project. We will confirm:

  • Whether the recordings fall within our collection policy
  • Project outputs required
  • Preferred file formats
  • Any supplementary material such as a list of items being deposited

We would also discuss ownership and copyright in the same way as any other collection that would be offered to us. Please note, it would be necessary for us to charge a fee to cover the costs of processing the material and adding it to the NRO’s permanent collections.

Contact for further information and advice.

Choosing a topic for your programme

When choosing a focus for your oral history programme, it’s useful to think about how the recordings will enhance and enrich your existing collections, and whether they might help fill any gaps. Themes should correspond with the criteria set out in your collecting statement.

For example, you could focus on interviews that help tell the story of your local parish, or of a local industry, organisation or political movement. Planning this out will help you decide who to interview, and where to advertise for interviewees.

Oral history survey:

Fill out this survey to let us know your thoughts on the oral history guide.