Historical Research Workshop

Reading: Learning From Strangers

This reading helped me get an idea of what goes into conducting historical research through oral accounts. Using an interview guide seems to be a useful tool to make sure you cover all the areas you want to cover, ask all the questions you want to ask, and generally keep yourself on track and ensure that you don’t forget anything. That being said, this reading also points out that “focusing closely on the guide, at the cost of attention to the respondent and the flow of the interview, is always a mistake” and that “permitting the respondent to talk about what the respondent wants to talk about, so long as it is anywhere near the topic of the study, will always produce better data than plodding adherence to the guide.”(p.48-49) Basically, eye-contact and active listening are more important than rigorously adhering to an interview guide.

The debate about whether to use a tape recorder or take short-hand notes is interesting. I could see how taking notes would be distracting to the respondent and using a tape recorder would be less distracting (although potentially perceived as more invasive) during the interview. Also, a tape recorder will capture the full testimony of the respondent with all of their hesitations and points of emphasis. But I can see how taking some general notes in addition to recording could be helpful. Notes taken on focus points can act as an outline when the interview is later transcribed from the tape recording, to ensure that you are getting the material you need from the interview.

I think the overall, the most beneficial information I got from this reading was the importance of developing a collaborative relationship with the respondent – the common goal of our mutual collaboration being the research project I am conducting. People will be more willing to share their experiences and recollections if they are put at ease and feel like they are “part of a team,” even if the information being sought will possibly discredit them, hurt their reputation or expose them in unanticipated ways .

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