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What follows is in no sense exhaustive or complete. I started from O'Sullivan's Handbook of Irish Folklore (that's where the basic structure comes from), and then I adapted it to the scene here in the Northeast by adding some questions and changing others. For any one of the aspects covered here, you can get more suggestions by looking al O'Sullivan's work.

I don't recommend trying to work straight through this guide with an informant. Nor do I particularly recommend interviewing with "guide in hand," and I'm dead against it for the first interview. Read the Guide through a few times before you go out. Then, when you go back for further interviews, you can use this guide to help you work up good questions. And don't forget to probe, to follow up, to get fuller explanations ("Did that ever happen to you?" "Can you give me an example?" And, of course, "Who, what, where, when, why?")

You will notice that this Guide has a clear orientation toward interviewing "older" people in a rural setting about how things used to be. That orientation is a function of my own lifelong historical interests. If you are more interested in present than remembered culture, you can adapt the questions to suit yourself.

The compiling of a Guide like this is an on-going thing. Some of the questions will tum out to be absurd or even (God save the mark) counterproductive. And there are good questions that should be asked that aren't in here. The whole thing is also very uneven. Some aspects of experience are covered rather thoroughly while others are barely suggested. Let us know how we can improve this guide. Meantime, here is something for those many people who have asked, "What do I say then?"

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Oral history interviews


Folklore | Oral History

A General Interview Guide



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