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Guidance on Chapter Oral History Programs

Several MLA chapters have indicated interest in developing oral history programs. The guidance below is based on specific responses from a questionnaire completed by chapter leaders and on the experience of the Southern and South Central Chapters. “The MLA Oral History Project Manual” also provides helpful information.

Planning Considerations

  • Consider having your chapter archivist or historian coordinate development of the program. An oral history program could also be incorporated as part of the charge of an existing History Committee.
  • Develop a rationale or goal statement for the oral history program. The Southern Chapter’s Web pages and MLA Oral History Project Manual are a good resource.
  • Identify the institutional repository where published oral history documents will reside.
  • Consult with MLA’s Oral History Project director Carolyn Lipscomb or with a committee member for suggestions about potential interviewees and the process for interviewing them.
  • Develop guidelines for oral history interviews. The following resources may be helpful:
  • Develop a list of potential interviewees.
  • Create a list of potential questions. Sample questions can be found on the Southern Chapter’s Website.
  • Perform pilot interviews to test questions and guidelines.

Equipment and Formats

  • Determine what recording tools are available to the chapter (audio vs. video). Consult the MLA Oral History Manual, “Equipment” (p. 12).
  • Consider different interview formats (e.g., person-to-person, telephone, panel, or written interview).

Legal and Ethical Concerns

  • Develop waiver forms for interviewees to sign. For a model, see the MLA Oral History Manual, “Consent Form” (pp. 8-9).
  • Recommended sources of reference for legal questions in oral histories or archives: If your institution has an institutional review board, you may want to consult them. The Oral History Association is good for general information. The Nebraska Historical Society has a nice summary.

Transcribing, Editing, and Indexing

  • You may want to arrange for commercial transcription of interviews. MLA’s Oral History Project director can provide names of transcriptionists.
  • Consult the MLA Oral History Manual “Instruction for Transcriptionists” (pp. 18-19).
  • Develop editing guidelines. See the MLA Oral History Manual, “Editing the Interview” (pp. 20-22).
  • Consider indexing the oral history (a recommended guide is the indexing chapter in the fifteenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style).
  • Publish oral histories on the chapter Website; consider posting summaries of each interview on the Web. See Scott Adams for an example of a published summary.
  • After the interview is complete, notify MLA’s Oral History Project director so that the chapter’s oral history can be linked to the MLA Oral History Website.

Frequently Asked Questions

If MLA has already done an oral history, can our chapter also do one?

Yes, this decision is up to your chapter. You may want to first read the MLA transcript to see how much it includes about the chapter history. To get access to an MLA oral history transcript contact your Regional Medical Library through the National Network of Libraries of Medicine or Mary Langman, Director, Information Issues and Policy, 312.419.9094 x27.

Before our chapter undertakes an oral history, do we need to clear it with MLA?

No, chapter programs are separate from MLA’s in terms of the individuals you interview.

Can we send our oral histories to MLA?

For publicity: Notify MLA’s Oral History Project director to have a link added to the MLA Oral History website.
For storage: Check with Mary Langman to see what arrangements can be made.

How can we recommend an interviewee for MLA’s Oral History Program?

The Oral History Committee routinely asks for recommendations of names in MLA-FOCUS, but chapters or individuals can submit names at any time to MLA's Oral History Project director Carolyn Lipscomb.