Oral history standards and guidelines

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Keeping Track of Information

Note taking during interviews is largely a matter of personal preference but they can be very distracting to the interviewee. If two interviewers are conducting an interview, one person should take control of directing the actual interview while the other concentrates on taking notes. When interviewing alone, focus your attention on the interviewee and rely on the tape recorder to capture the conversation. If an interviewee requests that no audio recording be made, jot down notes or key points when necessary but keep this activity to a minimum. By working on developing trust with each interviewee future interviews will be more informal and allow more freedom for note taking. Try to remain attentive and encourage the interviewee to share whatever thoughts they may have on the topic being discussed. If an important issue is mentioned or new lead presented, jot down a one or two word note as a reminder to follow up on it later. When referring to maps or sketches made by the interviewee, try to verbally reference each area or drawing so as to provide a mechanism, on tape, to follow the conversation. Copies of all notes, sketches and maps should be attached to the Oral History Interview Summary Form after the completion of the interview for final curation.

Ending an Interview
It is up to the interviewer to recognize when an interview should be concluded and to know how to terminate it. Be aware of how the interviewee is feeling and if (s)he appears tired or has lost interest in the process. Often a time limit has already been established for an interview and its termination poses no problem. At other times, the interviewee will continue to participate long after (s)he has become exhausted. Watch for signs of fatigue and take charge of ending an interview session as gracefully as possible. Occasionally, during the course of an interview, it will become obvious that no productive information will be gained and it is up to the interviewer to politely terminate the interview. If additional interviews or field visits are needed ask the interviewee about their availability. Set up a tentative date for your next visit. Always leave the opportunity open for additional interviewing should circumstances require it.
Complete all interview related forms and procedures: Immediately after the completion of each interview, complete all post-interview tasks and oral history forms and place all forms, notes and photographs into a file reserved for Oral History data. Post-interview tasks include:
a. Complete an introduction for each tape: Include the tape number, name of interviewee(s), interviewer(s), and interpreter(s), interview date, location, and general topics covered during the interview. Prior to conducting an interview advance all tapes for approximately 15 seconds (or tape counter to fifteen), thus allowing enough space to add a tape introduction after the interview has been completed. It is hard to predict what will occur or who might show up during a specific interview before it takes place so adding the introduction after the tape has been completed will save you from having to erase and/or edit a prerecorded tape lead. A sample introduction is included below to serve as a guide:
"This is Tape 04CR23, an interview with Nathan Columbia, Columbia River fisherman and resident of Hood River, Oregon. The interview is being conducted on August 4, 2004 at Mr. Columbia’s residence in Hood River, Oregon, and on the Columbia River. The interviewer is Dennis Griffin, interpreter is Susan Helstrom. Topics discussed include: traditional use of Columbia River fishing sites in the vicinity of Hood River, general fishing history on the Columbia River, Celilo Falls, techniques for catching and preparing eels, and the history of Mr. Columbia's family along the middle Columbia River. This interview is continued on tape #04CR 24."
b. Complete Labels for tape, tape box, and review form:

1. Immediately after completion of the interview, complete the tape and tape box label. The tape label should include the following information: 1. Tape number (tape number should include year, project abbreviation, and number of recording - (yr./ proj./ #), i.e., " 04CR23"); 2. Name of the interviewee(s); 3. Date of interview and place of recording; 4. Name of the interviewer; and 5. Name of the interpreter.

04CR23 Nathan Columbia 4 August, 1995 Hood River, Oregon.

Interviewer: Dennis Griffin Interpreter: Susan Helstrom

2. Tape box label should include the Tape number and name of the interviewee:

04CR23 Nathan Columbia

3. A tape review form should be completed that includes: Tape number; name, address and phone number of interviewee; date, time and place of interview; name of interviewer; name of interpreter; language (s) used; length of interview; and if this interview is continued on additional tapes.
c. Record any notes or observations immediately after the interview: While the interview is still fresh in your mind, it is important to take the time and review all notes taken during the interview. Jot down any thoughts or ideas and record personal observations regarding the interviewee (i.e., health and attitude) and interview (i.e., noise, sites pointed out by interviewee, or topics discussed). Be sure and record any questions that need to be clarified with the interviewee during the next interview, new topics or ideas, additional names of informants to contact, and/or a list of place names mentioned during the interview. Place a copy of all interview notes, sketches, and a list of any photographs taken in the project oral history file. Make sure that the file is clearly marked with the tape number and interviewee's name.

d. Record tape information on Tape Index Form: Add all necessary information from the completed interview tapes to the master Tape Index form. This information should include: tape #, recording date, interviewee's name, interpreter's name, interviewer's name, interview location, language(s) used during interview, and a brief description of the tape's contents (i.e., sites mentioned, names, key words).

  1. Make a copy of all interview tapes: After copying tape make sure that recording

tabs (located on top edge of tape) are punched out on both original tape and copy. Keep the original copy of the tape(s) in a vault or other safe area to insure long-term preservation. Use the tape copy for all future work (i.e., summary index, transcription, loan).
f. Review tape copy and complete Oral History Interview Summary Form: Using an Interview Summary Form complete an index of each tape's contents. The index should be quite detailed and be broken down into subject-time segments of from no larger than 5-7 minute intervals. Include data on time (minute) elapsed and tape counter number while reviewing the recording. Indexing by minute is more accurate than tape counter numbers since tape counters are not consistent from machine to machine. Key words and place names should also be listed for future reference.

Extract important information from the interview: After completing the Oral History Interview Summary Form, extract all useful information. Add all site-specific information to Site Summary Forms and mark site locations on area maps. Where appropriate, on-site visits should be scheduled in order to complete any needed Oral History Cultural Resource Inventory Forms. Identify future topics that need to be addressed or issues needing clarification. Make a list of any individuals identified during the interview that may have valuable information about your topic. Contact these individuals regarding their range of knowledge and availability and add their name to the prioritized list of interviewees where appropriate.
Determine whether field visit to sites/areas is needed: Conduct field visit if appropriate. After collecting site-specific information on several sites/areas, arrange for a field visit to verify site locations. Participation in field visits can involve one or more elders depending on their availability, the proximity of knowledgeable sites, and knowledgeable interviewee’s preference. If the sites visited are located within a relatively small area, group interviews should be encouraged. On-site visits often jog personal memories regarding site details that were previously forgotten and/or the locations of additional sites. Interaction between interviewees can often produce detailed accounts of previous site/area use. U.S.G.S. 7.5 Minute Quadrangle maps should be used during all site visits. Site boundaries should be elicited and recorded on area maps and individual Cultural Resource Inventory Form. Have interviewees point out specific geographic features or areas that were used by them or their family. Record any place names and mark their location on U.S.G.S. maps.
Complete an interview outline and conduct the next interview: After studying the results of previous interviews, consider modifying outlines for the next scheduled interview to incorporate any newly acquired information, questions, or possible discrepancies. Conduct the next interview.
Review tape transcription priority: If a tape's transcription priority is considered high and funds are available, send a copy of the interview tape to a transcriber for review. If funds are not readily available place the tape on a priority list to be fully transcribed in the near future.
If tape(s) are transcribed, review each completed transcript: After transcript has been returned from processing, check for accurate spelling of native place names using accepted tribal orthography. Original interviewers should review each transcript to insure accuracy. Interviewers have a better idea of a tape's contents and are more readily able to recognize errors in content and translation. Complete a more detailed list of key words, place names, and personal names. Complete a Tape Transcript Index Summary Form and file copy along with the completed transcript. Guidelines for the Completion of the Tape Transcript Index Summary are provided on this webpage. These review sheets can (should) be indexed onto a computer database providing easy access to all oral history tape information for future reference. A sample Tape Transcript Index Summary Form is included in Figure 4.
Review Transcript with Interviewee: To insure transcript accuracy. Make final copy of transcript after interviewee approves final form. Provide interviewee with a copy of the final transcript.

  1. Don't take a too-active role in the interview and dominate the conversation. Be sure and thoroughly discuss with the interviewee why the interviews are needed and how the knowledge they agree to share will be used but allow the interviewee the freedom to present their knowledge in the manner they are most comfortable.

  2. Try not to become nervous or impatient if the interviewee shifts focus away from your proposed area of interest. Don't intervene and cut off the interviewee. Allow for a normal break in the conversation before bringing the interview back to the topic you wish to discuss. Use silence as an advantage. Allow enough time for the interviewee to really think about the subject being discussed and to say everything they wish to say.

  3. Always try to use open-ended questions. Closed type questions do not allow the interviewee time or means to think about their own recollections on the discussed topic. These types of questions are too pointed and solicit only short answers.

  1. Avoid using complex or badly formed questions. They often serve to frustrate or confuse the interviewee. Think about the questions you wish to ask before you ask them.

  2. Pay attention to the information shared by the interviewee. Information pertinent to additional areas or topics may be mentioned in passing and you need to be able to recognize the opportunity and to clarify new leads or areas of confusion.

  3. Try not to leave any topical or chronological gaps in the interview. All discussion areas need to be tied in to the general topics discussed.

Tape No.# 04CR08 Interviewee Name: Robert Blaylock
Transcript Level: 3 Reliability: 3 Rating: 2
Reviewed by: Dennis Griffin
Transcript Summary:

Part one of two tapes dealing with salmon fishing along the Columbia River and it's tributaries. The transcript is incomplete with many breaks but the information is clear and the content is excellent. Sahaptin narrative has been translated and transcribed in English but the accurate spelling of place names needs to be checked. Numerous place names dealing with the Columbia, Hood, White Salmon, and Wind Rivers are included. The tape provides much information on fishing strategy and techniques used for obtaining fish before the advent of commercial fishing and the depletion of the salmon..

Salmon fishing - techniques, strategies; fishing - nets, snares, weirs, hook and line; fishing sites; seasonal use of the Columbia, Hood, White Salmon, and Wind Rivers; women's role in seasonal fishing; raw materials - oil, fish skins; subsistence activities; supernatural beings - spirits, coyote.
Place Names

at!at!alia Ten-Mile Rapids

wa'yagwa Area a little below above site

wa'q!emap 1/4 mile above Spedis railroad station

nixlu'idix Wishram village

caba'nkckc a village about 1 mile downriver of Spedis

Finn’s Hole Swimming, picnic and camping area used by Mosier residents

Norris Cabin Late 19 century cabin built by Ed Norris while working on local salmon cannery.

Ice House Natural ice cave used for refrigeration by early residents of Mosier
Personal Names

Ciulingoci Mary Jacobs

Aantuli Betty Livingstone

Yuunchar John Smith

Shoowculu Jeffery Adams

Big Jake Jake Thomas, Captain of U.S. Pinafore, commercial steamboat on Columbia

If done properly, the actual amount of time spent conducting an interview is very small in comparison to the total amount of time involved in interview preparation and post interview tasks. To help estimate the total amount of time required to complete the interview process, Figure 5 outlines the estimated time required to identify of potential interviewees and conduct and process an actual interview. The first column of Figure 5 lists the minimum time required to arrange for initial interviews. This time is necessary whether one interview is conducted or 100. The second column outlines the estimated time involved in completing a one (1) hour interview.
The third column breaks down the time needed to complete a tape transcription for one hour of taped interview. Not all tapes merit this investment. In evaluating which tapes need to be transcribed and which tapes do not, the following factors (Baum 1977) should be considered:
Why Transcribe Why Not to Transcribe

1. Transcripts are easier to use than tapes. Few 1. No funds are available. After completing

researchers will spend the time to listen to tapes a tape index you hope that funds will

if not transcribed. become available to transcribe the tape.

2. An interviewee can review and amplify what 2.The interview covers a single topic with

they said in an interview if there is a transcript. very limited research value.

3. Tapes including dialogue in languages other than 3. The value of an interview is often in

English need to be thoroughly and adequately capturing the sound, feel, language, and

translated in order to assess the importance of the flavor that is conveyed rather than any

information offered by the interviewee. new information. Such a tape does not

4. Native place names should be accurately written need to be transcribed.

in the local Native orthography. 4. Some interviews come out badly for one

reason or another. Sometimes the wrong

interviewee is selected. Such a tape does

not need to be transcribed.
Transcription costs can be greatly reduced if a rough transcription of the interview is all that is required. This would effectively eliminate over two-thirds of the transcription time estimated above. Since the interviews are the property of the interviewer/agency and are usually not intended for wide spread dissemination or publication, a rough transcription of a tape and an accurate translation of all personal names and places should prove sufficient for your immediate needs. A rough transcription of a one (1) hour tape will take approximately 8-10 hours.

Figure 5: Estimated Time Required to Complete the Interview Process

for a One (1) Hour Interview
Pre-interview Process Interview Transcriptionth
Initial Contact & Interview Arrangement 2 hours

Interview Preparation . . . . . 3 hours

Interviewing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 hours2

Completion of Interview Forms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 hours

Completing Interview Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 hours

Transcribing (24-40 pages) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 hours

Auditing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 hours

Editing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 hours

Finishing Touches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 hours

Other Tasks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 hours

_____________ _________ _________
Total Hours 5 Hours 7 Hours 33 Hours3

When conducting oral history interviews, the following information is offered to insure that all original tapes, records, and primary documents are maintained in a manner consistent with the requirements of 36 CFR Part 79, "Curation of Federally Owned and Administered Archaeological Collections". Original records and primary research materials will remain available to qualified researchers except for sensitive information that the interviewees feel the release of may reasonably be expected to lead to the damage of a cultural resource. Restricted data will remain confidential and should be listed on the Interviewee Consent From. Interviewers should obtain written permission from all interviewees to release interview information before conducting any interviews. A sample Interview Consent Form has been included that can be used as a guide in cases where an existing form is not available.
1. All transcripts, interview notes, sketches, and correspondence should be kept together in one location that is clearly identified as oral history material. Acid-free containers should be used to store all paper documents to insure their long-term protection. File cabinets or document boxes should be labeled with the name of the collection and the associated tape catalog number.
2. Place a copy of all photographs with the Oral History Information Form. Photographs should be stored in acid free envelopes with a brief description written in pencil on the back. Be sure and include reference information for the photograph, the date, project name, tape number associated with the photograph, and interviewer's name. This data should be available from your photo log. Do not attempt to mount the photographs.
3. Proper storage for all tapes require an area free from any strong magnetic fields. Tapes should not be stored in metal storage cabinets due to the magnetic qualities that are often associated with them which often result in blank spots developing on the tape. If an electric spark accidentally results (i.e., vacuum cleaner coming in contact with storage case), all tapes stored within the cabinet could be destroyed (Harris et al. 1975). In addition, all tapes need to be stored at least six inches above the floor and away from any pipes and heaters, electric motors, microphones, loudspeakers, or magnets. Wooden storage containers are excellent for storage of tape recordings.
4. Tapes should be stored in a dust free environment with temperatures ranging between 65 to 7500 F and 50% to 55% humidity. Similar conditions are recommended for all paper materials so that both tapes and documentation can be stored closely together.
5. If using reel-to-reel tapes, 1/4" reel-to-reel tapes are recommended for highest quality in recording and playback. When storing tapes, they should be left in the "tails out" position. This means that tapes should not be rewound after playing but stored as is. The tape should be rewound immediately before playing so as to insure the continued quality of the tape. The reason for this is that when a tape is rewound using high-speed rewind or fast forward capabilities the tape will often be wound unevenly on to the reel. Tapes tend to contract and expand with changes in humidity and temperature causing unsupported tape edges to become distorted. These edges will become permanently damaged when the tape contracts. In the "record" or "play" mode, machines do a better job of winding a tape and less damage will result.
6. Digital recording devices such as DVD and DAT recorders and CD R/W disks provide another medium in which interviews can be recorded. Cost and availability of equipment should be researched before the interview process is begun.
7. All tapes should be visually inspected periodically to check for signs of deterioration. In order to keep tapes from slaking and stretching, each tape should be "exercised once every six months. "Exercising" a tape usually means that a tape is fast forwarded (or in the case of reel-to-reel tapes placed on to another reel) and then played at a normal speed (back onto the original reel). This exercise will keep the tapes taut and resilient and will lessen the chances of the tape printing over itself.
8. All cabinets containing tapes and associated documentation should be equipped with a lock and key. This will insure the protection of sensitive information contained within the tapes as well as provide a safeguard for the informants who have volunteered information useful to Tribal projects. Any scholars, agency personnel, land planners, or students needing access to the tapes or transcripts need to apply in writing to the agency possessing the tape and follow established access protocol.
9. Copies of all tapes should be made as soon as possible after recording. Master tapes should be kept in a vault or other safe area to insure protection and not be used for casual listening or for transcription. These tapes should be brought out only to make extra copies, in cases where the original copy has been damaged or destroyed, and to allow for periodic maintenance (i.e., rewinding).
1. All tapes and transcripts should be available to all qualified researchers, with the following restrictions:

a. All requests for access to tapes and transcripts should be submitted in writing to the appropriate agency. Request forms should be available from the agency, which will require the requestor's name, address, institution they represent, and reason for requesting access. Forms will also allow room to list the requested tapes and/or transcripts. A Request for Access to Interviews and Archival Material form is available as an example of the type of form that can be used.

b. Access will be restricted to all sensitive information relating to the nature, location, and character of prehistoric and historic resources5. Individuals must work with a professional archaeologist (e.g. SHPO, BLM, USFS) or Tribal staff in order to identify non-sensitive material or gain access to screened copies of transcripts.

c. No individual should remove any tapes or transcripts from the archive.

d. Tapes and transcripts shall not be duplicated, microfilmed, or reprinted. Exceptions may be made only in cases where the agency possessing the tape believes that they are warranted for the protection of cultural resources and/or educational purposes.

e. Tapes and transcripts are not available through interlibrary loan.

f. Any additional restrictions that may be placed on individual tapes and transcripts will be followed.
2. Procedures for using quotations from any tapes or transcripts:

a. For any and all quotations or excerpts from the transcripts or tapes to be published, the author must gain written clearance from the respective agency and submit the name and address of the publisher to the agency so that the publisher can be informed of the possibility of libelous statements in the materials.

b. No quotes will be attributed without the living narrator's permission.

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