how to prepare an oral history project

In this article we will systematize the guidelines for an oral history project .

Based in the online course Oral history, by Yolanda Silva.


As in any other area of study, an oral history project begins with an idea. Those more accustomed to the practice of Oral History, certainly will have less difficulty in organising themselves.

To know what is oral history.

Here we define some guidelines by which everyone can follow during the preparation of an oral history project .

Choosing a Project

To organise our ideas, before getting to work, we can start by asking ourselves:

  • Which is the desired objective with this project?
  • How does my project contribute to the understanding, management and conservation of Cultural Heritage (within an institution or not)?
  • How does my project contribute to the perception and knowledge of Cultural Heritage by the general public?
  • What research should I prepare beforehand? Where can I look for information?
  • Who will I interview? Why? How? Where?
  • Will the interviewees I propose to involve in my project benefit of it? At what level?
  • Is the project well supported in terms of human resources, appropriate equipment, time, as well as financially? :

Do I know with whom and with which equipment I will work?

Do I have an idea of an expected duration for the project?

Do I need funds? Where can I get them? 

  • How will I promote my project?
  • What will I do with the collected material (recordings, videos and associated documentation) once the project has ended?
  • How will I archive the material? Also: where and under what copyright protection?

This series of questions can be used at the beginning of the project, as well as throughout its various moments, to ensure that we are keeping on track.

Moreover, we can apply them to different types of works within the scope of Oral History, from more or less basic school projects to the collection of information for professional historical research purposes.

Get to know the Oral History Society.

the stages of an oral history project

Research and mapping the field of action

fontes históricas orais pesquisa

After defining what he/she wants to work on, the historian will have to find out more on the chosen subject. This is done through research.

Preliminary research is crucial to the project. It allows you to develop a better understanding of what you propose to study, the period of time in which it took part, places and other related themes.

Based on the information that was you were able to collect, you need to map your field of action. This basically means defining relevant location(s) for your study. After all, people’s memories are related to the places where they lived, where spent time.

Who to interview and how to address the public in an oral history project

fontes históricas orais

The griot (or griotte) Marilda de Souza tells students the story of the quilombo community and the slaving farms in the coast of imperial Brazil. Presentation of the project “Passados Presentes” [Present Pasts] (November 2015), at the Bracuí Quilombo (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

This is possibly the easiest question to answer, because perhaps you have already been addressed by someone before starting the project, or perhaps a community has already caught your interest previously.So, and if the contacts of individuals we intend to interview have already been duly noted and filed, all that remains to do is to try to establish the first contact and find out to what extent are they interested in contributing to our project.

Where to go

the location or surroundings can assume great importance, due to the memories associated with them. Someone who has first-hand knowledge of a particular location, building or landscape can contribute valuably to the identification and characterization of a function, occupation or relationship that may exist, through the stories that he/she might have to be told.

Using a map or performing a partial or even full interview in one or more places of interest to our project could prove to be an asset when compared to an interview in a living room or office.

Organising information and support documentation

Essentially, what we refer to as prior information to the process of the interviews is a clear and concise summary that will allow a future understanding of the documents to be created during the next phase. The notes of the interviewer/historian help the transcriber or other fellow historians and researchers (as well as any other future users) to better understand the interview, the interviewee and the contexts.

To learn how to conduct an oral history interview

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