Oral History: how to focus and structure a life history interview II



Oral History: how to focus and structure a life history interview II

Drawing by G. L. Fernandez - 'Our family'

Drawing by G. L. Fernandez - 'Our family'


The main objective when conducting a life history interview is to collect the interviewee's overall personal insights gained through his/her whole life experiences which are recalled through his/her memories. Each interview should cover family and social background and key influences (cultural, social, political, linguistic, economic ...) with detailed accounts of day-to-day life activities and events.


In these activities, you will learn that the information from a life history interview should not be a random collection of mere facts but an organised and detailed account of the experiences that shaped the interviewee's life history. You will consider some ideas for ensuring the effective recollection of life history data and reflect on the kinds of themes that may be appropriate to help you in structuring questions.

Activity 1: How to obtain rich content in a life history interview

Picking out themes or areas to explore while conducting a life history interview will help the interviewer to organize a chronological account of a person’s life. It also helps the interviewee to organize his/her thoughts and remember significant events and facts in a structured, historically-bound way.


Mark below the themes that you think should shape the chronological structure of your interview. Tick all that apply.

Activity 2: How to explore themes effectively

In order to explore a theme effectively during your live history interview, it is advisable to structure your different questions by themes. The following exercise will help you to develop a plan and explore themes effectively. 


Below are some questions extracted from the plan of a life history interview. Please classify these questions into the appropriate category, by copying them inside the correct 'theme' boxes below. Some questions may appear in more than one box.

Additional Resources

Open the following link and listen to the interview with Corsino Fernandez Garcia - also known as Cole Kivlin - conducted by Alicia Pozo-Gutiérrez. Write down the themes explored in the interview and the questions asked by the interviewer. This interview consists of three parts: http://humbox.ac.uk/3661/ 


© Irina Nelson and Alicia Pozo-Gutiérrez. University of Southampton. / Padmini Broomfield - Oral Historian / Oral History Methodology by Irina Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Created using the LOC Tool, University of Southampton

Created using the LOC Tool, University of Southampton