With many of us working in countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am wondering how this is impacting upon our creation of oral history interviews. Some of us may be suspending planned interviews for the moment, particularly with vulnerable communities, while others may be racing to complete interviews before the pandemic spreads in their area.
I am curious as to whether any colleagues are developing protocols or strategies for conducting oral history interviews remotely. There are probably disadvantages to this approach, including a reduction in intimacy during the oral history encounter and compromised sound quality. However there will also be advantages, including reduced financial and environmental costs of travel and the ability to conduct interviews in circumstances where it would otherwise be unsafe to do so. I assume that there must be online platforms for conducting and recording audio or audio-visual interviews.
I would appreciate your thoughts on:
a) tools and technologies for conducting remote interviews, and
b) the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.
Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow
Joint Editor, Oral History Australia Journal
Honorary Associate, Museums Victoria
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies | Faculty of Arts
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I live and work on the lands of the Wathaurong, Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
"Breaking Barriers: Harvesting LGBTQ Stories from the Northern Plains" (of the United States) has done several remote interviews by telephone with individuals who grew up in this area or who spent most of their working lives here and now live elsewhere. We just use a digital recorder and a speaker phone. This has worked well except in one case where the recorder picked up the hum from a fluorescent light. That recording is almost unusable, even we used a sound cleaning program.
I have been doing oral history interviews via phone for two decades. You are right, it is not ideal because you don't have the body language to help gauge how comfortable your narrator is nor reactions to questions. But, the sound quality is great! I use an old Radio Shack device that plugs into my phone on one end and into my recorder on the other end. The recording is directly from the phone, so no outside noise or static. I will also say that some narrators seem to prefer over the phone--it is less of a time commitment, and they like the privacy--I am not in their home or office, for example. So, I would not discount remote interviews. I have had to do them over the years because my contracts do not afford travel money, and some narrators live away from the national parks I was writing about (I write administrative histories for the National Park Service). So, remote interviews have been essential for capturing their stories.
The tech guru at Transom.org, a post-public radio platform in the US, has published a fabulous summary of tips and tricks on recording remotely and/or safely.
Regards and stay safe,
Dr Siobhán McHugh
Associate Professor, Journalism,
School of Arts, English and the Media,
Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts,
University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia
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I would appreciate if any replies were posted here, so we can all learn
Oral History Advisor
Alexander Turnbull Library
National Library of New Zealand
Hi Carla, I'm in the UK where our Oral History Society has recommended postponing interviews rather than conducting them remotely. Their latest newsletter states:
All Face to Face Oral History Interviewing to be Postponed
The OHS recommends that all face to face oral history interviewing be postponed until further notice. There are many remote means of interviewing people (such as Zoom, Webex and Skype) but they are not a substitute for face to face interviews, are often poor audio quality, and tend to result in digital files that cannot be archived. If interviews can be postponed, then the Society thinks this is the best course of action to maintain best practice. However, the Society recognises that members might wish to explore remote means and we invite wider discussion on this via our Facebook page: https://en-gb.facebook.com/OralHistorySociety/
Best wishes, Ruth
Dr Ruth Beecher
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Sexual Harms + Medical Encounters Research Hub
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I'm a a PhD Candidate at Università degli Studi di Cagliari (Italy) and my research focuses on the Italian/Levantine Jewish Community of Istanbul.
Because of the coronavirus emergency, I decided to postpone the interviews that I should have conducted on the field by this coming summer because in my case, to establish a direct relationship with the interviewees is key.
Take care and stay safe,
Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali
Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy
I've done both in person and remote oral history interviews, and would like to suggest that people think about beyond using the telephone/audio only projects.
I've used video calling services such as FaceTime or Skype, and found them quite successful in helping with the body language issues that telephone interviews have. There are screen recording services that you use that will allow recording the interviews in different audio channels, so that you can dedicate one channel to the oral historian and the other to the narrator. The biggest challenge is streaming as video can have pretty significant demands and heavy network traffic can cause freezing or loss of video/audio lags.
I'm working on a Mac and have successfully used ECAMM's call recording system (https://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/). There are other technologies used by podcasters on PCs that similarly allow for call recording (here's a list of current options, but I can't vouch for their quality: https://blog.media.io/record/video-call-record.html). I have not done any experimentations with video call recording on tablets or smartphones. You want to ensure that any recorder you're using records the audio input from the call and not the audio coming out of the computer/device speakers. I've found that pay options work better than freebies.
If anyone would like to email me off list with specific questions, I'm happy to help. I've also written about the process in an upcoming book about one of my oral history projects and would be happy to share the chapter.
Kathleen M. Ryan, Ph.D.
Department of Journalism
College of Media, Communication, and Information
University of Colorado Boulder
Barbara W. Sommer
Thank you to everyone who has replied to this posting. My interest is in current or updated remote interviewing standards. What work is being done on this topic either at an institution, group/cross-institutional effort, or on an organizational level?