Talking about the past sometimes brings painful events to the surface that may trigger feelings of sadness or anger within the narrator or within us. As interviewers, we need to recognize when a narrator is uncomfortable or uneasy sharing a memory of a violent past. At the same time, we also need to protect ourselves from the heaviness that accompanies listening to difficult (tragic, violent) accounts of the past.
What is our responsibility towards the narrator and ourselves? What can we do when the narrator experiences negative feelings while talking about violent events? And how do we deal with the possible impact of these feelings on ourselves as interviewers?
Group Work (30 minutes):
Let’s start with thinking about the relationship between the narrator and the interviewer, the emotions that might come up and how we might be able to deal with them.
We divide participants into 4 groups. 2 groups focus on the narrator and 2 groups focus on the interviewer. We write these questions on the flipchart and ask them to discuss:
We distribute Handout 21: Do no Harm in Oral History to support the groups in their discussion. We ask each group to prepare flipchart presentations. We encourage them to use color, draw and/or write.
Group Presentations (30 minutes):
We join 2 groups together and ask them to present to each other, in a way that a group that focused on the narrator joins a group that focused on the interviewer and they exchange presentations.
We then ask the joint groups to each prioritize 3 important things that can help to take care of the narrator and 3 important things to support taking care of ourselves as interviewers. We ask them to write each one on a separate A4 paper using a marker.
Plenary Discussion (20 minutes):
We collect the groups priorities and put them in a table as below:
|Taking care of myself as an interviewer||Taking care of the narrator|
We go through the ideas and clarify any questions. After that, we conclude with a discussion about our responsibility towards the narrator and ourselves especially when doing an Oral History project that features violent and traumatic events.
Individual Reflection (10 minutes):
We ask participants to individually think of at least 2 actions they will take with them implementing an Oral History project. If time allows, we can invite a few participants to share their thoughts with the rest.
Cramer, Jennifer A. “First, Do No Harm”: Tread Carefully Where Oral History, Trauma, and Current Crises Intersect, The Oral History Review, 47:2 (2020), pp. 203-213,
Strong, Liz H. “Shifting Focus: Interviewers Share Advice on Protecting Themselves from Harm,” The Oral History Review, 48:2 (2021), pp. 196-215,
Theidon, Kimberly. “How Was Your Trip?’ Self-Care For Researchers Working And Writing On Violence,” Social Science Research Council, (April 2014),
Clark, Mary Marshall. “Oral History of Disasters and Pandemics,” Oral History Master’s Program Workshop Series, Columbia University Incite, (April 16, 2020),
Leitch, Laurie. “Information Gathering after Trauma: Considerations for Human Rights Work, Peacebuilding, and Interviewing,” Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 3:1 (June 2010) pp. 80-87.
“MHPSS Guidelines for Working with the Families of the Missing in Lebanon,” Act for the Disappeared (November 2021),