Doing Oral History


ZOOM H1 – the recorder I use for oral interview

As part of my research, I am conducting oral interviews with various people who were involved in the green movement in some way. I thought I’d explain a little bit about my experience of oral history.

First, the equipment. I use a ZOOM H1 recorder (above) which costs about £80 from Amazon.  I bought this model, mainly for price (£80 is at the top of my price range but was one of the cheaper models that records in WAV format). I went on an introduction to oral history course run by the Oral History Society, who suggested we get recorders that record in WAV format for longevity. I am sure there are far better recorders out there, but within my limited budget, this seems to be excellent. I use the two microphones on the machine, rather than using an external. I am impressed with the quality of the recording. It is pretty simple to use too, so I can just set it down and hit record.

Before I could undertake any interviews I had to fill out an ethics form, and went on university wide ethics training. The ethics committee approved my project in January. I am focused on gathering information about environmentalism and the interviewee’s place within it, but also I sometimes ask about wider issues and how they relate.

When I go to the interviews, after it has finished I give the interviewee an information sheet about what I will do with the data. This states that the information might be used in my thesis but also in journal articles, book chapters, monographs and other academic-related things. I also make the point PhD theses are easily accessible now to the general public through EThOS, the British Library service.

I also stress that I am the only person who will have access to them and that they have the right to deny my use of any information for any future publications. I am always careful to maintain confidentiality and there is a section on the information sheet which discusses the use of names. If they do not want their name to be used we can come up with an alias or alternatively a numerical system (e.g. Interviewee 1). I would then be the only person who had access to who they really were. I get them to sign a sheet which states they’ve read and understood the other forms, and I sign one myself and give to them.

At each stage of internal assessment during the PhD (we have one at the end of every year – Annual Progression, as well as one 18-months in, Mid-Point Progression) the ethics stuff gets reviewed. I’ve not spoken to many people yet, and confidentiality and data protection is hugely important. All recordings are kept on an external hard drive stored in a locked drawer I only have access to.

A lot of people know each other and have also pointed me in the direction of others who may be of use. I’m just getting into this but I’m hoping new people will appear, and I’ve already had some recommendations.

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2 responses to “Doing Oral History

  1. Katherine O'Flaherty

    have you thought about what you might do once all the interviews are collected….will you transcribe them individually? or just keep digital copies?

    • Transcripts take a lot of time to write – I will either do those or a summary where I’d done do everything but the key points. I’ll keep digital copies for the time being, just depends what I’m doing in future.

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