9 Writing History Continued


You can see that the student used the oral interview alongside other primary and secondary sources.

Why do you think they did so? What primary/secondary sources could you use to support your own findings?

Some other aspects to consider when conducting oral interviews include:

  • Try to develop a connection between your interviewee and yourself. Remember that they are doing you a favor by agreeing to help out with your research project. How can you show gratitude? Perhaps, this could be something small like buying their cup of coffee when you first meet with them or offering to send them a copy of the interview so they can share it with their family. If you are interviewing someone at an organization, like a church or student union, offer to volunteer your time for the organization.
  • Consider that some topics may be traumatic or sensitive. You’ll want to be mindful of what you are asking and respectful if the interviewee doesn’t want to talk about it. Try to gage what they are comfortable with before the interview.
  • Be creative with your interviewing method! Indigenous scholar, Nepia Mahuika, suggests that the formal sit-down interview style that is traditionally used may not be the best method for every scenario.[1] Other ways to conduct an interview include:
    • A Walking Interview: Go for a walk with your interviewee around campus as you ask your questions. Passing their old dorms or classrooms could help trigger memories.
    • A Go-Along: This is where you attend a community gathering or event with your interviewee. You’ll find a good time during the day to ask them a few questions. By being surrounded by the event (such as a student union gathering or a sports game), your interviewee will be relaxed, eager to talk about their own past experiences at similar events and appreciate the time you spent with them.

The Technical Side:

When conducting non-traditional style interviews, you may find complications arise with the technology capturing all the sound, especially if you are in a busy social event. Try out your equipment first in a similar location, sometimes a small microphone attached to a shirt collar can be an easy solution. If you are conducting sit-down interviews, your local library should have the best equipment for this. Usually this is free for the public to use, however you will need to book a time slot. Ask the library staff if you need help setting it up. The Black Student Research Lab at the University will help point you in the right direction for audio services too!

Make sure to get permission from your interviewees (in the audio tape or in written form) for the use of their interview in your research. Explain to your interviewee that you are using the research for a college project and that it will be available online for public use. 


  1. Nepia Mahuika, Rethinking Oral History And Tradition: An Indigenous Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).


Workbook: The Seminal History and Prospective Future of Blacks at the University of Idaho Copyright © 2024 by Annabelle L. Lyne and Sydney Freeman Jr.. All Rights Reserved.

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