Papers should be six double-spaced pages with
standard (one inch) margins. The subject of the paper will be the experience of one of
your grandparents. If you happen to live with a grandparent now and are under a stay at
home order together with them, then you can interview them in person. For the vast
majority of students, you will need to conduct these interviews by telephone. Although
it goes without saying, no one should go to physically meet a grandparent who does not
already live with them for this project, as this would put the student and grandparent at
risk. If you do not have a living grandparent, you can interview a living brother or sister
of the grandparent (but the subject is still your grandparent, not the sibling of the
grandparent). The history of the grandparent that you will be creating will concern their
life up to the age of 18 only. You are not gathering simple factual details such as date
and place of birth (although you may include) or creating a family tree. You are telling a
story, creating a narrative, reconstructing a history.
The best way to approach oral history research is to ask open-ended questions and then
do lots of listening. The interviewee will often share what they deem the essence of
their experience. So when jumping in, the best approach is to listen and take lots of
notes (you are not required to record your interviews, although you may want to do
that for yourself).
After you’ve listened as much as possible to your grandparent, start to ask questions
that may probe into areas they haven’t covered or even deliberately avoided (and again,
do lots of listening). Some questions you may want to ask:
1. What were community interactions like?
2. What was your religious upbringing?
3. What was the political climate like?
4. What were your family relationships like?
5. How have family relationships changed or stayed the same?
6. What were male-female relationships like?
7. What were relationships like between various ethnic groups?
8. What opportunities for advancement or achievement existed for interviewee
(this may particularly relevant for a grandmother).
The above questions are just some ideas for questions you could ask. It is up to you to
follow the threads you find of interest (but remember, the research paper concerns only
their life up to the age of 18).
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