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Community Oral History Training, Take 2

On one of those horribly hot and sticky days in July, a group of 15 people gathered at 99 York Street to learn how to do oral history interviews. Although the chairs were far too cozy for the weather, I could tell it would be a wonderful experience as soon as we started going around the room introducing ourselves. Many had no experience with oral history, but they certainly did know things about memory, human relationships, and about themselves. We had people interested in family history, in history of activist movements, and in history of particular communities in Kingston. We had younger people and older people. We had people who had come from or were going to all corners of the world, and people rooted right here. We had people who knew how to listen — or who at least recognized that listening is harder than you think.

With the help of Scott Rutherford and Cameron Willis, I was honoured to compress into 6 hours some of the basics of oral history practice as I see it. I presented ideas about the philosophy of oral history and how to plan, conduct, and process an interview, but the most important parts of the day were listening to a sample interview and discussing it, practicing interviewing ourselves, and… lunch! At lunch we got to know each other and hear about why grassroots history of living people is interesting or urgent to each of us.

Please consider joining me for the second time around! No experience is necessary, and there is no cost. All you have to do is write a brief email to me at explaining what draws you to the workshop. There are only 15 spaces, so don’t delay.

Here is what some participants from the first workshop said:

  • Great introduction to oral history, with lots of time for discussion and interaction. I especially liked the playing of your own interview.
  • I found the whole day to be good: listening to the interview you did in Hudson, talking about ethical issues, getting a taste of the tech side of things (using the mics), having Scott’s perspective as well as yours, hearing input from the interesting group of participants.
  • I have nothing but praise. My only wish is that it was longer. You taught us concepts by talking about them, then showing us/modeling and then we tried things. Great mixture of people, good food, great location.
  • I took four pages of notes and will continue to use them as a guide, along with your helpful handout. The lunch was lovely, and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet others who share the interest in oral history.
  • It was organized, relaxed, interesting and useful, respectful of participants and non-threatening.  There were lots of opportunities to ask questions and to hear from other participants.  It was really helpful to have the schedule for the day and you stuck to it. I thought all the topics you covered were important — I particularly found helpful the listening to and discussion of the interview you had done with the woman in New York state.

For my part, on November 5 I’m looking forward to meeting a new batch of lively people who like to listen. At this rate, we may be able to develop a whole network of mutual support among us, which I would love to see!

— Laura Murray