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Department of Oral History

The Department of Oral History records the memories and descriptions of daily lives, communities, families, and notable events that shaped South Carolina and continue to do so, and to make those stories freely available to a wide audience.

Access Our Collections

See a complete list of our collections or browse the following categories:

 

 

Resources

Professional Guides
Oral History Sites
  • Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 
    Federal Writers' Project (South Carolina), American Memory Project, Library of Congress
  • Digital Traditions 
    Home to a wealth of folk traditions, South Carolina is culturally and geographically diverse. From the Appalachian Mountains to the Sea Islands and from rural crossroads to urban centers, the state boasts rich sources of traditional culture and folklore
  • Oral Histories of the American South 
    Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Veterans History Project 
    A selective, annotated compilation of the many existing oral history projects, programs and collections dedicated to recording and preserving the experiences of veterans and civilians, Library of Congress
  • Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 
    This oral history collection contains nearly four thousand interviews about Mississippi, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 
    A great example of an online oral history on the history of Cold War nuclear testing in Nevada, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • GoodWorkSister 
    Women Shipyard Workers of WWII: An Oral History, Northwest Women's History Project, Portland, Oregon
Interviewing Tips
  • Silence as a Tool 
    Use silence as a tool. If the interviewee pauses, don't jump in immediately with another question. The interviewee may be connecting what they've just said to some other thought that is related and important. 

  • Role of the Interviewer
    Remember that your job as the interviewer is to guide the interviewee, not to be a participant in a conversation. Your voice should be heard sparingly, and the best way to achieve that is to think carefully about what questions to ask, how to word the questions to get the fullest response, and in what order to ask the questions (flow of the interview).

  • Location, Location, Location
    Choose a place that is quiet with minimal distractions. DO NOT conduct interviews in public places, such as restaurants or cafes. Be aware of open windows, slamming doors, kitchen noises, utensils, squeaky chairs, fans and air conditioners, pet birds, traffic, open spaces and high ceilings that cause echo sounds, etc.

  • How to ask Questions
    It is often how you ask the question that accounts for the richness of the answer. Below are some ways to ask questions that can be quite helpful, and also some techniques to avoid. Always try to keep in mind that the person you're interviewing knows more about their life and connection to the subject than you do, and if you give them sufficient berth with your questions, they will often provide information on matters you couldn't anticipate.
Methodology

The information sought in oral history work is best obtained by supporting interviewees in the telling of their stories. Oral histories should not be dry recitations of facts, but engaging remembrances of the interviewee's experiences and insights.

Questions should be framed to encourage, not dampen, the interviewee in his/her recollections. It is best to cast oneself as the student, eager to learn what the interviewee wishes to impart, not the investigative reporter, trying to pin down the facts. The latter approach almost certainly guarantees the equivalent of a lifeless butterfly collection. The former will reveal more than you anticipated and, often, more than the interviewee intended or realized was available in his/her memory.