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.