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Telling Interview Stories: Understanding Oral History from the Perspective of Practice

Anna Sheftel and Stacey Zembrzycki

Oral historians often state that, at its core, interviewing is about relationships. This generally refers to the relationships that interviewers and interviewees build and nurture over the course of their encounters, so as to create open, safe, and respectful spaces where one side can share intimate stories, and the other can listen deeply and meaningfully to them. However, there are more relationships involved in the oral history process than just this archetypical one. Others in the room—co-interviewers, a videographer, family members that come in and out of the space—interact with and complicate the dynamic. And, there are also the imagined and real audiences, for whom the stories are being told. All of these people, and the varied relationships that result, have a profound effect on what happens within an interview. Reflecting on our experiences, as these relationships both thrive and flounder, can therefore only help us better understand the stories that they produce and the ways we interpret them later.