center the voices of freedom colony residents and descendants in the understanding of a place
fill gaps in the historical record
are sometimes the only way to learn about aspects of a community
help ensure that a community’s voice is heard
help us understand change
make the invisible visible
The tutorial video and resources on this page will empower you to conduct oral history interviews that enrich public understanding of freedom colonies.
This training video, produced from a recording of the Oral Tradition Workshop held on September 5 at the Brenham Heritage Museum, covers the basics of oral history interviews about freedom colony memories, especially the importance of consent and ethics. Oral tradition is inclusive of oral history, as well as songs, stories, and other kinds of information.
Consent and Ethics
Ethically conducting oral history interviews means the interviewer must obtain consent from the interviewee. A written agreement that documents that the interviewee has been given all the information necessary to come to a decision about whether to participate in the oral history project. Download our sample consent form below and fill in the blanks when getting consent from your subjects. Consent means explaining to interviewees:
the project purpose and process
If conducting an oral history interview to contribute to this project, you should share the User Agreement with your subject.
plans for where the oral history interview recording will be stored and used (archiving, public programs, art, film)
that you know why their story matters
Best practices for conducting an oral history interview:
Be sensitive to differences; don’t reinforce stereotypes
Encourage narrators to speak naturally
Make only those promises you can fulfill
Make your interviews accessible to your narrators and their communities
If conducting an oral history for The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, you can do that by uploading the interview to the Atlas! Make sure you get consent from your interview subject for their interview to be shared in this way (see above).
There are two types of oral history interviews – topic interview and life review.
Topic Interview – A topic interview is focused on a place, event, organization/institution, occupation, era, art/craft/music, etc. Conduct a topic interview if you’re looking for information on a freedom colony, church, school, or neighborhood. Questions can be drawn from the Black Settlements Study Survey. Write questions that help you:
Get the facts
Get the stories
Get the images and “flavors”
Get the beliefs and ideas
Connect to the larger history of a place and events
Use photos, documents, maps, and other materials with your interview subject as prompts for questions and memories.
Life Review: A life review is an overview of someone’s life experiences, usually proceeding chronologically and covering a wide range of topics like family, education, religion, etc. – these are longer interviews that are often conducted over multiple sessions. If you’re interested in conducting a life review, you can learn more about writing questions from Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History or the Smithsonian Institution’s sample questions.
Oral History Interview Tips
Review and print these oral history tips and best practices:
Remote Interviewing Webinar: Sponsored by Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History and the Oral History Association. This timely webinar addressed the dynamics of conducting remote oral history interviews. It begins with an analysis of the pros and cons of conducting distance oral history interviews.