Questions are part of our everyday life, and a way for us to get to know the world and learn more. In an Oral History interview there are different ways we use questions: first, to demonstrate our interest and preparedness; second, to guide the narrator; third, to encourage the narrator to open up their memory to us; and last but not least, to seek understanding and result in a meeting of minds.
How are questions used in Oral History? What types of questions are there? Which questions should we ask and when?
Warm-up (10 minutes):
We distribute Handout 28: Globingo. On it are different categories of questions: specific, open-ended, follow-up, warm-up, motivating, and leading. With the worksheet in hand, each participant approaches fellow participants to think of examples for the types of questions and write them on the worksheet. They repeat this until they find a question for each category.
Working in Paris (25 minutes):
We distribute Handout 29: Questions as a Research Tool and Handout 30: The DO’s and DON’Ts of Asking Questions to all participants. We divide the group into pairs, and ask each person to read one of the handouts and explain it to their partner in turn. Invite participants also to draw on the content we collected in the previous exercise.
Plenary Discussion (15 minutes):
Bringing all participants together, we open the floor for reflections and questions that might have come up during the pair work. Also draw on the What-if questions from Handout 30: The DO’s and DON’Ts of Asking Questions and share ways of handling these situations.
Individual Thinking (20 minutes):
Sitting together, we are going to watch 15 minutes from an Oral History interview with Fairuz Houssain. We watch a bit from the beginning and the end of the interview. As the participants watch, we ask them to write down examples of which questions worked and which didn’t during the interview.
Plenary Discussion (20 minutes):
We discuss the reflections on the interview, drawing on what we learned about questions during the session.
0:00 – 9:41 Start of the interview:
28:50: No evidence of a pre-interview. No follow-up questions.
37:00: No follow-up questions
1:06:00: End of interview:
There are technical adjustments throughout the interview – of the camera, the sound, and stopping and starting the recording – which remind the narrator that she is being recorded. A strong oral history interview supports a narrator’s exploration of their memory and their recollections of what happened in the past without distractions in the present (background noise, technical difficulties, telephone calls, background chitchat).
“Great Questions,” Story Corps (StoryCorps, Inc., 2003-2022),
“Tell Me Your Stories,” An Oral History Curriculum for High School and Middle School Students ( Living Legacies Historical Foundation, 2012),
Al-Hussein, Fairouz. “Rough 1.” Interview by Ali Msarah. N.D.