Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Oral History - A Starting Point for Ufologists

A ufologist who wants to interview witnesses owes it to himself, the interviewees, and ufology in general, to familiarise himself with oral research methodology. In "Q & A 101" I touched briefly upon some types of questions, and the general approach used by lawyers to interviewing / questioning witnesses.

The study of history shares much with the legal method, but can differ in some important respects as well. The following sources are excellent starting points for any ufologist genuinely interested in learning the nature of oral research methodology, which is a necessity if they want to have their work taken seriously.

Baum, Willa K. Transcribing and Editing Oral History (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1977).

Davis, Cullom et al. Oral History: From Tape to Type (Chicago: American Library Association, 1977).

Dunaway, David K. and Willa K. Baum, eds., Oral History: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (London: Altamira Press, 1996).

Grele, R. J. Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History 2nd Ed. (Chicago: Precedent Publishers, 1985).

Lance, David. An Archive Approach to Oral History (London: Imperial War Museum, 1978).

McMahan, Eva M. and Kim Lacy Rogers, eds. Interactive Oral History Interviewing (Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994).

Thompson, Paul. The Voice of the Past: Oral History 2nd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Vansina, Jan. Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (London: Routldge & Kegan Paul, 1965).

I offer the following sage words of wisdom from Cullom Davis, Kathryn Back and Kay MacLean, from Oral History: From Tape to Type, at. p. 8:

"Collecting oral history requires proficiency in such specialized skills as historical research, equipment operation, and interviewing; it also demands sensitivity, alertness and empathy on the part of the interviewers. Contrary to popular impression, preparation and interviewing can be tedious and tiring work, and sometimes even unproductive. Veteran oral historians have had their share of unsuccessful projects, and a bad interview will always remain a bad interview. Of some consolation (as well as anxiety) is the fact that collecting, if not the totality, is the sine qua non of oral history. Without a taped interview one can never have a transcript or a bound oral history memoir. Collecting is the crucial first stage of oral history and therefore it deserves careful attention and extensive practice by the novice."

Paul Kimball


RRRGroup said...


Again, invaluable information and advice.

One would hope that this (and attendant material from you, some already on this blog) would appear in book form: a primer for UFO investigators, the new crop.

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...


Alas, such a book would have a VERY limited readership, even amongst ufologists, many of whom often remind me of those baseball fans who, after a player strikes out, yell (either in person or on TV), "aw, c'mon - how hard can it be to hit the damn ball?" convinced, as they are, that any monkey can do it.

Alas, it takes monkeys with training - just like historical research.

Paul "Cornelius" Kimball