This morning I shadowed Cornelia as she recorded an oral history with Dave Dulio, Associate Professor and Chair of the PoliSci department at OU, in preparation for the GOP debate on campus November 9. (If you’re interested in listening to the oral history, here’s a link. Note that, though I had to cough through pretty much the whole recording, I managed to hold it.) Observing Cornelia’s process really helped me feel more comfortable about doing my own recordings–it’s a completely different experience to be present at a recording session than it is to listen to an existing file, since you have not only the audio information but also body language, gestures, expressions, etc.

Here’s how the recording session played out:

Cornelia began by going over the necessary paperwork–the informed consent form and the deeds of gift for both ROHA and the Rochester Hills Museum. As an academic, Dave Dulio is familiar with the IRB and the concept of informed consent, so she skimmed that information with him; when recordings are done with non-academics, more in-depth discussions might be necessary. The two of them also discussed what questions/prompts Cornelia would be asking, what direction she wanted the oral history to take, etc. This pre-interview portion lasted about fifteen minutes and also included time to set up and test the recording equipment. I noticed that Cornelia was very explicit about when recording would begin: When she plugged in the microphone, it began to glow, but she assured Dulio that she wasn’t recording yet. She told him what would happen in case of an interruption–she would edit it out–and he offered to unplug his phone.

I was really interested in what Dulio would say about how he came to be interested in politics, whether he would discuss his affiliation, how he views the coming debate, etc. Interestingly, Cornelia actively attempted not to ascertain Dulio’s political leanings, going out of her way to frame things so that he wouldn’t have to give himself away. While it might seem as if that information would be vital to the oral history, I didn’t feel like anything was missing. Dulio was very articulate, talking about his earliest political memory, his collegiate apathy toward politics, and his anticipation for the debate. As I listened to him, I found myself taking note of some of the names he mentioned and thinking about what kind of keywords I would include on his file. Clearly the hours I’ve spent indexing the ROHA database have changed how I listen to oral histories.

After the recording, Cornelia spoke with Dulio a little bit more before we left, including mentioning that she would email him a link to his oral history. (Even though he gifted the recording to ROHA and the Rochester Hills Museum, it’s still also his to use as he sees fit.) He said that he would probably never listen to it because he hates the sound of his own voice–another aspect of oral histories I’d never thought about.

Though, as I mentioned, I wasn’t able to go to the Oral History Association conference in Denver, there’s a Michigan Oral History Association conference on November 4-5 in Traverse City that I’m definitely going to attend. My next step is to register for the conference and book my hotel room, and I’m planning to write a post about my experience there.


One thought on “Shadow

  1. troyintern says:

    Nice update. I actually was going to ask where I could find some examples of oral histories. I listened to Dulio’s and it only took about 30 seconds to hook me. Once he started talking about the Air Traffic Control strike. That’s where it really took on a historical aspect. How do you prepare for an interview like this? In other words, how do you get them talking about something without losing the conversation? I imagine you have to be very selective in who you pick to interview so that you don’t stall in the middle of it. Since we were on the topic of Dr. Alan’s class earlier…it strikes a chord with the very beginning of the class when we were studying Aural rhetoric. Before words were written, they were spoken. Going back to that, it definitely adds to the historical aspects of oral histories.

    I found it funny that he mentioned he would never listen to it. I was talking to my supervisor earlier today about the sound of my voice and how I am very uncomfortable if I hear my own voice on a recording. That is why I do not record my short interviews when I am writing profiles, though it would be helpful sometimes.

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