A friend emailed me some questions about a digital oral history project she’s wanting to start at her church, and I’m posting my response to her below in case this is of interest to others. Someone else recommended she use a video camcorder with an external lapel microphone for the project. My advice is to take a “lighter” approach. Here’s what I recommended and sent to her:

The equipment / gear & post-production work required to do all-video interviews is lots more intensive than what is required for audio-only interviews. I recommend you define what your product goals are (do you want to produce audio files, headshot/A roll video files, or narrated slideshows with audio used and related images shown and “B roll” images. You also need to define how you plan to distribute these digital files / artifacts: Are you going to share them on a website, will the videos be hosted by YouTube or Vimeo, will you create physical DVDs, etc. What is your budget? All these answers can and should drive your decisions about digital formats to record in and publish.
I do recommend an external mic if you’re going to use a Sony HD video camera, but again the requirements and logistics of that kind of effort is at another level/scale than focusing on audio interviews and sharing them as audio files & later as narrated slideshows. There are many benefits to doing audio-only interviews:
  1. Less equipment required
  2. People tend to be less intimidated when a camera is not pointed at them
  3. Post-production and publishing can be much faster/streamlined
My recommendation would be to use a battery operated digital audio recorder like the $60 one I”ve linked below, and with each interview take photos of photos provided by the interviewees which could be used as B-roll/background images for a narrated slideshow video you put together later. Then you can publish the audio interviews first with minor editing, adding opening intros and bumpers and a closing bumper, and later as edited narrated slideshows.
The great questions list from Storycorps is a great tool to use when doing oral history interviews:
I hope this is helpful. If you want to capture some first person video of each person you’re interviewing you might just record a 3-5 minute segment during the interview, but also record everything with audio.
This is a link to a website I created a few years ago for a series of audio interviews I did with people in our church focused on mission work as well as testimonies:
Here are links to some presentation resources I’ve shared the past couple of years at our annual May men’s conference about Christian Digital Storytelling and oral history:
Family Oral History and Smartphones
Telling Your Mission Story with iPad Video
Be a Digital Witness for Jesus
(That’s the end of my emailed recommendations.)
For more about the “why” of conducting family and community digital oral history interviews, check out my TEDxOU talk from January 2013, “Becoming Your Family’s Digital Witness.”


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  • Nancy Marks

    Thanks Wes for sharing this with me. Looking forward to doing more of this!

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