The art and technique of eliciting stories from others
[contains iPad info] My Mama pointed to a name on the page of the 1940 census. “This is the boy who – at age 9 – told me the facts of life.”
She pointed to another name. “This was the best teacher I ever had. Ever. And I had some good teachers.”
Her fingers traced a triangle shape on the map where two streets intersected. “This is where we played baseball. There were only two bases. See? First base, Second base, Home.”
These are some of the stories that came out when I interviewed Mama about her memories of growing up. I used the 1940 Census as an oral history question generator and memory sparker.
This article is my description of what I did to use the 1940 Census as the inspiration for an oral history interview. I describe it all – from finding the census pages, to working with printing out image data, to what I used for my audio setup, to interview techniques, to a listing of all the topics discussed, to some iPad file transfer tricks and lessons learned.
Last Saturday I finally did what I’d wanted to do for two years – experience what it’s like to conduct a StoryCorps in-booth interview. I wanted to sit in one of those cool AirStream trailers, complete with the facilitator and the two microphones, sit across from someone whose stories I want to hear, and leave with one of the two audio CDs that are created during that time (the other CD goes to the Library of Congress).
Mix one part logistics (or how to find the StoryCorps booth and why you should arrive extra-extra early) with one part Los Angeles Parks department malaise, with another part tech geekery, with two parts interviews, and another part Olvera Street visit (first time in 50 years!), and a ton of pictures, and you’ve got our day.
Alternate titles for this story could be: “The Kitchens Family’s Excellent Adventure,” or “The Out of Towners,” or “No
country Recreation Department building for old men…or young boys.”
Reader Daria of Missoula, Montana, stopped by the site to say that she’d bought a recorder that she saw mentioned here – the Zoom H2 Handy recorder. Her first report was: “I LOVE IT. OK – granted I’ve only had it for a week….but I think it’s great. Thanks! My dad was the first test.”
So I asked her some questions about how its use was, first time around. Here are my questions and her responses.
Susan: Have you ever done any recording before?
Susan: Describe the steps you took to conduct that first interview of your Dad
Daria: Wrote out questions (which I didn’t really follow – but was a good starting point. Made sure baby was occupied (quiet). Just started. Definetely room for improvement.