4. Interviewing

Oral history interviewing approximates to many kinds of situations in which one person is seeking to obtain information from another. In other words it is not a scientific technique (although it should be a systematic one) for which there are many fixed rules. A successful interviewer will develop his own methods and the most that a publication like this can hope to provide will be a few general guidelines.

More useful than any guidelines, however, is sensitive reviewing by the interviewer of the work which he has actually done. Potentially good interviewers will recognise many of the mistakes that may occur in their first interviews and be able to make the appropriate changes in their subsequent work. Those who lack this facility are unlikely to make good interviewers. The benefits from reviewing recordings will be greater if the study and analysis of the recorded interviews is a shared experience. Interviewing is commonly an emotional process from which the interviewer cannot entirely disassociate himself. (It would, in any case, be counterproductive for the interviewer to try to eliminate his commitment to the interview because it is on this personal level that much of his effectiveness will depend.) But it is important that he should have a thorough understanding of how he functions in an interview situation and how his informants react and relate to him. To achieve this the observations of experienced colleagues, who can bring greater detachn1ent and objectivity to the reviewing process, are particularly valuable.

It is helpful in oral history that interviewing is carried out within a clear historical framework; for when the aims are clear the achievements can be the better assessed. The most effective test of oral history interviewing is whether or not it is producing appropriate results. If the interviewer has been successful in these terms then this, more than his observance of all the approved conventions, is the ultimate criterion by which his work must be judged.

Having said this, the following guidelines may nonetheless be instructive: