Oral History Basics

In communities where events have not been well documented or written records are distorted, preserving oral history can benefit entire communities by rebuilding and capturing a moment in time for future generations.

"An oral history is created in a recorded interview setting, using a structured and well researched interview outline, with a witness to or a participant in a historical event."

The goal of collecting an oral history is to record and preserve a person’s firsthand account of the event and make it available to researchers for further study. As such, there are a few key elements to conducting a proper Oral History interview:

Careful attention to copyright and other legal and ethical issues.
Provisions for making interviews available at an accessible repository.
A controlled interview setting with high quality sound or video equipment.
A detailed collection of first-hand information.

A structured, well researched interview format.
Adherence to careful processing techniques.


A good oral history
should try to include:

  • Many voices – not just the dominant perspective that traditionally controls the narrative in records. Think about what different sides of the story there may be.

  • A unique perspective – understand not just what happened, but how the teller understood what happened and what they think about it.

  • Structured questions that are well thought-out.

  • Necessary background research. Being familiar with the general history and topic of your interview will lead to more organic, thoughtful questions.


To conduct a real oral history interview, it is important to practice ethical reporting techniques. One important step is to get signed permission from your interviewee to use their account as a piece of oral history. Just as stories are valuable parts of our cultural identity, they are also important parts of our personal identities and should be treated with care.

Use the following template to help your storytellers understand their rights and permissions:

Download Template


A View From...

In 2020 the Florida Geographic Alliance partnered with celebrated Tallahassee historian and author Ann Roberts to create the series, "A View From...". This project follows local families who have donated their stories to broaden our knowledge of history.

Anyone can participate in A View From - all you have to do is pick a place! A View From the Classroom, the Treetops, or even A View From the Laptop Screen; what are the places in your local area where people gather, and what stories do they have to share?

This first installment, A View From the Barber's Chair, follows the story of the traditionally African American historical district Frenchtown. Check out A View From the Barber's Chair in the Story Map below:

Oral History Resources

For The Classroom

The Great Thanksgiving Listen


The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a national movement from StoryCorps that empowers young people to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder, mentor, friend, or someone they admire.

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ArcGIS StoryMaps


These interactive online maps can give your students' narrative a stronger sense of place, illustrate spatial relationships, and add visual appeal and credibility to their ideas. Use this simple map maker to create custom maps and enhance your digital storytelling.

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The Florida Memory Project

State Library and Archives of Florida

The Florida Memory Program digitizes materials from the State Library and Archives of Florida that illuminate significant events in the state's history, and help educate about Florida history and culture.

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Geohistorical Inquiry Model

ESRI Education Program

This paper offers a perspective on linkages between historical and geographic research, inquiry methods, the importance of local investigations, and a technique for geohistorical studies.

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Infographic: The Elements of Storytelling

National Geographic Society

Telling a powerful story isn't as simple as you might think—this infographic outlines the basic storytelling process and the work it takes to arrive at a story worth telling.

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11 Meaningful Writing Assignments

Shveta Miller

These writing assignments aim to help students build connections within their community and get them talking about what’s happening in the world with trusted adults and peers.

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Get In Touch


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