Interview Frustrations

I think one of the most frustrating, albeit good, things about these interviews are how much the interviewees have to say and how little time we have to talk with them.  I was absolutely fascinated by Barbara Carson and her story of her life and how it related to Williamsburg; however, we did run out of time last class.  I thought her take on ethnic restaurants in the area was very unique and it was interesting to hear her thoughts, because they weren’t just praise of the area.  Barbara’s and Sharon’s interviews provided a very multifaceted and unique depiction of Williamsburg from different perspectives and both of their interviews were refreshing in different ways.

The idea of oral histories sort of confuse me because they aren’t quite as directed as other interviews.  During both Sharon’s and Barbara’s interviews, we have directed the initial questioning to the history of their lives, not very specifically to questions about Williamsburg that relate directly to our projects.  Also, during each interview, interviewers have pursued more general lines of questioning just to have the information recorded rather than focus on their specific area of interest.  I find this frustrating as an interviewer because when I am asking my questions, I’d like to spend as much time talking about the answers to those questions, not general ones.  It’s taken me a little while to realize this, but oral history interviews are more to have things down on the record than (usually) for one specific purpose or project.  Someone in 3 years might find Sharon’s response to a random question that I ask for general information (not specifically for my project) very useful, and in that sense the information is also available for posterity.

At the end of her interview, Sharon Scruggs expressed that sometimes its difficult to figure out what the interviewee’s area of expertise is and you could be missing out on what they have to say by not asking the right questions.  For this reason, I guess that it is probably best to have a lot of general questions and then the interviewer can determine what the interviewee’s area of knowledge is to get that down on record.   This is probably best, but I am still finding it kind of frustrating at times.

1 Response to “Interview Frustrations”


  1. 1 iaknig February 25, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    It is frustrating to run out of time–which we always do in these practice interviews. But in part, that’s by design: I want you guys to see that you can easily keep an interview going for an hour–more (in fact, in my experience, often something sort of opens up interviews at around the 45-60 minute mark).

    As for your concern about lack of focus: When you are doing your project interviews I think this will be less of an issue a) because a single individual (you) will be conducting the interview (maybe with some follow-up from your indexer); I think our shift of interviewers in the practice interviews inevitably breaks focus; and b) because the people you interview will have some expertise in the areas of your research interest; in fact, I think the challenge in those interviews will more likely be working to frame the interviewee’s expertise in a larger context of place/time as it has intersected with their lives.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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