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Oral History Toolkit

This toolkit has been created for students who wish to use the oral history collections at The Claremont Colleges Library, or who wish to conduct oral history projects.

About This Research Guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide a brief introduction to the process of creating oral histories. If you are already familiar with the oral history research process, the tabs for "Forms" and "Resources" on the navigation menu include all of the forms and linked resources in alphabetical order.


What is Oral History?

Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Gathering memories typically means the recording in interview form of personal narratives from people with first-hand knowledge of historical or current events.

Why Conduct Oral Histories?

First-person documentation lends a personal dimension to history by recording ordinary people and everyday life experiences. Some stories may be forgotten and untold narratives. Oral Histories can fill gaps in existing knowledge or history by providing insights based on first-hand memories, experiences, and even beliefs of people. Often, the people chosen for oral history interviews provide a variety of perspectives that may have been overlooked.

The Oral History Methodology

According to the Oral History Association (OHA), an oral history interview typically consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and recording their exchange in audio or video format.  Recordings of the interview are then transcribed, summarized, or indexed and then placed in a library or archives. This guide outlines some of the principles and best practices recommended by the OHA and is organized by the three main stages of an oral history project—the pre-interview, the interview, and the post-interview. 

Before deciding to implement oral history methods, consider some of the essential questions of the methodology:

  • What are the goals of the project?
  • What resources are available?
  • How will you record, disseminate, and preserve the interviews?
  • What is the time frame for the project?
  • Who will benefit from your project? (think both short and longterm)

Research Skills

Conducting oral histories can provide training and practice in many essential research skills. Some of those skills include:

  • Project planning
  • Critical thinking
  • Writing clear abstracts and descriptions
  • Community outreach
  • Good interviewing techniques
  • Ethics in interview and research processes
  • Time management
  • Integrating research through direct quote, paraphrase, and summary
  • Transcription and note taking