Oral History Course at the National Library

Her voice was reminiscent of Aunt Daisy, but slower. In response to a simple question about memories of a wedding, the 82 year old Martinborough woman laid out her memory as a seven year old of being the flowergirl at the wedding of the local baker’s daughter. Her excitement at the dress and big pink ribbon in her hair and the mysterious moment during the reception when the bride jumped to her feet and dragged the bridegroom from the hall in great haste. The next day the bride gave birth to a baby boy. Two years later that boy was dead, tragically drowned in a bowl of soaking hops in his father’s bakery. This was the magic of oral history – a simple question eliciting a fascinating train of memory – birth, death, scandal all in the one tale.

This example was played at the Essentials of Oral History workshop I have just completed at the National Library. Run by experienced journalist and oral historian, Judith Fyfe, the course is very interesting and practical. Becoming a good oral historian involves understanding what you are collecting and following professional processes to make sure that your interviewee is comfortable and able to contribute the most they possibly can to the record. We were taught that we were not conducting a journalistic interview but rather collecting raw data. There is a skill in letting the interview flow, being patient with pauses, but also not losing sight of the need to ask followup questions or clarify information. All this goes to create a record which future researchers can understand and access for useful information.

I’m looking forward to completing two followup workshops in the next two months – Taping Seriously and Abstracting Oral History. These weekend workshops are held regularly by the National Library.

Find out more about the National Library Oral History Centre and the workshops here. The courses are held regularly in Wellington and sometimes around the country.

I’m interested in hearing from anyone else who is currently involved in Oral History recording or is interested in becoming involved.

2 thoughts on “Oral History Course at the National Library

  1. Megan October 1, 2007 / 10:37 pm

    Hi Marion.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the oral history training session you’ve just been to – will you do a follow-up in KTT as well? or perhaps present at Library Liaisons next year?

    I like the point that often oral history may not be something that you are collecting for your own reseach, but raw data for future researchers to interpret and analyse, hence the importance of keeping good records about who, why, where, when, how. Contextualising the recording, but not skewing it.

    I keep finding out about the Nat Library training *after* it has been booked out, so am hoping to find out about the sessions *before* they fill up next year, as they are usually in Wellington and that involves some planning to attend.

    I look forward to hearing about the other session that you will attending later this year.

  2. Jane October 2, 2007 / 10:14 pm

    I seem to remember that we were involved at CCL with an oral archive at one point – is that still in existence?

    I would be interested in hearing about any courses as well thanks Marion. KTT seems like a good idea too.

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