Oral History documents the experiences and memories of people, thereby placing the narrator at the center of its inquiry. Yet, as a living source, a narrator interacts with an interviewer, and it is this relationship that shapes the meaning-making process of Oral History. 

What is the relationship between narrator and interviewer, and in turn their relationship to Oral History? How do we identify “the right” narrator for our project? How can we even locate narrators willing to share their personal experiences? 


  • Understand the concept of “shared authority” in relation to Oral History
  • Identify criteria for narrator selection and understand what makes a good narrator

Time and Materials

90 mins 

  • Flip chart
  • Markers (different colors)
  • Computers/phones with access to internet (one for each group to watch together)
  • A4 papers


Warm-up (15 minutes):

We brainstorm participants’ ideas on how to find narrators, what kind of relationship is necessary between the interviewer and the narrator, and  gather what participants might understand of the concept “shared authority” (check notes to facilitator and handout). Collect the answers on a flip chart paper or separate A4 papers to be visible throughout the session. 

Guiding Questions:

  • What makes a good narrator?
  • Why is narrator selection so important to oral history? How do you think the selection process impacts the interview? And the research? 
  • How would you describe a fruitful relationship between the interviewer and the narrator?
  • What do you understand by the term “shared authority” as a way to describe the relationship between the interviewer and the narrator? Who is the author in Oral History? Who has the authority? 


Group Work (35 minutes):

The participants form 4 groups and each group takes a copy of Handout 19: Selecting Narrators and chooses an Oral History interview from the links provided (see below). The groups watch 20 minutes (a little bit of beginning, middle, end) to get a feel for the interview.

Each group assesses the choice of the narrator in the interview based on the concept of shared authority and the questions listed in the handout. 

The following are the four interview links:


Group Presentations (40 minutes):

Each group shares its findings in a 10-minute presentation based on the questions in the handout, and shows a brief excerpt of the interview to illustrate the group’s  ideas and conclusions. We, as facilitators, add any criteria the groups mention to the flip chart or A4 sheets we collected during the warm-up and keep them for future sessions.

Notes and Tips for the Facilitator

  • Possible responses for warm-up:
    • Word of mouth: through family, friends, neighbors, community members, people you’ve always wanted to ask questions to.
    • The snow-ball effect: when you meet possible narrators, you ask them to recommend or suggest additional narrators.
    • Your research question also determines who your possible narrator could be. If you are conducting research on the impact of the Lebanese War on schools, it would make sense to find narrators who worked in education during the war (teachers, administrators, staff, professors, students). And vice versa, your potential access to narrators often determines which research question you can focus on.
  • This session relates to session Building Blocks of a Research Project, Formulating a Research Question, Creating a Narrator Pool.

Sources and Further Reading

Frisch, Michel, “Sharing Authority: Oral History and the Collaborative Process,” The Oral History Review, Winter – Spring, 2003, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Winter – Spring, 2003), pp. 111-113

Shopes, Linda “Commentary: Sharing Authority,”  The Oral History Review, Winter – Spring, 2003, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Winter – Spring, 2003), pp. 103-110

Shared Historical Authority – Wikipedia

Michael Frisch, A Shared Authority (SUNY Press, 1990)

Institute of Oral History, Baylor University Selecting Narrators