Skip to Main Content
Research Guides

HSTAA 110: History of American Citizenship: Oral Histories & Interview Tips

Densho narrator photos

Interview Tips

The best interviews have a measured, thinking-out-loud quality, as perceptive questions work and rework a particular topic, encouraging the narrator to remember details, seeking to clarify that which is muddled, making connections among seemingly disconnected recollections, challenging contradictions, evoking assessments of what it all meant then and what it means now.

Preparing for your interview

  • Use a chronology to compile a list of events that occurred during your subject's life that you can ask about
  • If you are going to focus on the history of a particular ethnic group's experience in the United States, find some background information on the group
  • If you are going to focus on one particular event, find some background information on the event


Eliciting memories

  • Have your subject look through historic photographs
  • Have your subject browse through back issues magazines such as Life, Time and Newsweek
  • Ask your subject about particular events -- "tell me about..."


Historical Context for your interview

  • Relate your inteview to history of Seattle covered in the course lecture and readings
  • Look for scholarly journal articles or books that are related to themes or events covered in your interview -- use the resources listed under Interpretations & Analyses

Linda Shopes, Making Sense of Oral History, accessed Sept. 23, 2013.

Citing Oral Histories

Examples of an oral history citation:

  • Antin, David. Interview by Charles Bernstein. Dalkey Archive Press. Dalkey Archive, Web. 21Aug. 2007.
  • Purdue, Pete. Personal interview. 1 Dec. 2000.

Local Oral Histories

To find oral history transcripts as well as video interviews available in the Libraries use UW Libraries Search and use the terms interviews or oral histories in conjunction with your topic. For example:

  • interviews and pike place market
  • oral histories and chinese and seattle


Sample Collections Available Online:

Oral History How-Tos

These sites and books provide practical information on how to do an oral history interview including techniques, equipment and transcribing interviews.

Oral Histories as Historical Evidence


  • Oral histories provide a unique, personal angle on history or on an event and often gives voice to the everyday person. 


Keep in mind

  • Oral histories are by their very nature subjective and individualistic.
  • Interview questions, as well as the interpersonal dynamic between interviewer and interviewee,  shape the content of an oral history.
  • Oral histories are based on memory and memory is both selective and fallible. Events may be collapsed and dates may be off as the interviewee attempts to tell a coherent and consistent story of the past.
  • Because of the subjective and fallible nature of memory, the accuracy of oral histories needs to be weighed by comparing it with other evidence.


How to use oral histories

For more information on using oral histories as primary sources see: Making Sense of Oral History