Billy Graham Center

10 - Oral History Interviewing

Assignments in the Archives

Exercise #10 - Introduction to Oral History

Purpose of Exercise: To give students some background on the advantages and disadvantages of oral history interviews as historical documents and give them a chance to listen and critique a portion of an interview.

Description of Exercise:

000-005 Introduction

005-010 Describe collection policy of BGC Archives, the type of documents it collections (papers, records, conference materials, oral history), show the Archives home page , talk about the collection page and the guides that are there, and the oral history resources of the Archives(use digital projector, give out printouts of home page [], oral history page [] and oral history exhibit page [])

010-015 Play excerpt of Drury interview from exhibit (give out handout of Drury page [])

015-030 Talk about oral history interviews as historical documents, talk about how to do an oral history interview

030-035 Describe in class assignment - there are nine tape recorders around the room with nine tapes inside. Each tape recorder has two headphones, so two people can listen to each tape. There are two copies of the transcript for the tape at each tape recorder, marked to show the point at which the excerpt on the tape starts. At the front of each transcript is stabled a one page biography of the person being interviewed (except for 514, T58, which has a summary of the contents of the tape.) Students are to quickly scan the bio and listen to the tape. One of the students liastening to the tape listened for strengths ands weaknesses of the tape as an interview (bad questions, good questions, bad interview technique, good interview technique, sound quality, etc.) The other person listening to the tape listen to the interview as a historical documents (what themes did it document, how would you verify it, what other sources would you use with it.)

035-050 Students listen to tape

050-1:05 Students meet back as a group and the archivists questions them to get their reports on the different tapes they listened to as interviews and as historical documents

1:05 End of class. Give out handout of materials from other archives about doing oral history

Materials needed:

Digital projector

Tape recorders, power adapters, headphones (number of tape recorders depends on the size of the class. The Archives cannot handle more than 18 students and to handle that many, the staff needs to borrow headphones from Media Resources. Should have a few extra headphones and recorders in case some are not working.

Tapes: 40 T1, 52T1, 58 T1, 279 T5, 316T2, 393 T3, 431T5, 492 T4, 514 T58

Transcripts for the above tapes, with a postit note at the point where the selected excerpt begins.

Transcripts and some left over handouts are in a box labeled oral history class at 1C2

Handouts from South Texas Archives and other sources on doing oral history interviews. Also in box at 1C2

Sheet with brief description of tapes used in exercise

Note: When used on 1/00, the class came down from Blanchard hall anbd was about fifteen minutes late each time. 60 minutes are really required for this exercise.

Classes used with:

Dave Mass History labs 2 on 1/27/00 (18 students and 16 students), 1 on 2/28 (13 students)


Oral History Interviewing

1. What are the advantages of oral history?

    a. Human, first hand, immediate, anecdotal

    b. Uncovers feelings and interpretations, not just facts

    c. Fills in gaps where other documentation is lacking

    d. Can provide perspectives from the grass roots

2. Disadvantages of oral history? It's very much the subjective view of one individual so you need to use it in conjunction with other sources

An interviewee can...

    a. ...ramble or be vague or disappear on tangents

    b. ...interpret events through everything subsequent

    c. ...lapse in memory, forget important parts

    d. ...self-censor without your knowing it

    e. ...telescope or collapse time

    f. ...downplay or overplay their role

    g. to distinguish personal experience from others

    i. h. ...Much information is conveyed by body language. Facial expression, tone of voice. Audio or even video tape misses much of this

    i. ...expressing differently than you need

    j. ...say what they think you want to hear

3. How to do an oral history interview

    a. Do as much background research as possible

    b. Make all the technical preparations necessary

    c. Select the right place and time to do the interview

    d. Interview should be one - on - one

    e. Build questions which are intended to stimulate description

      1. Avoid yes/no questions

      2. Have your interviewee make it specific

      3. Get them to tell their story, not say what you want them to say

      4. Don't argue

      5. Avoid biased questions: "How did you feel about the disgusting way you were treated?"

      6. Be ready to ask questions based on what you learn - follow up

      7. Be ready for the unexpected

      8. Know when and whether to interrupt

      9 Build trust in interview; save harder questions for later

      10 Towards end of the interview, bring in opposing viewpoints

    f. Your involvement in interview? Steer, prompt, encourage, stay out, monitor tape

    g. Clarifying points necessary to anyone listening ("He gave me a pile of coins this high")

    h. Use silence

    i. Securing right to the interview (certificate of gift)

    j. Take notes (spelling, unclear points, points to come back to)




Andrew Wyzenbeek - Chicago businessman, active Christian layman

Collection 40, T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3 3/4 ips, 79 minutes. Recorded on one side only. Interview with Andrew Wyzenbeek by Robert Shuster. Discussion includes Wyzenbeek's immigration to the United States, his first jobs, and his association with such people as Billy Sunday, Mel Trotter, Peter Deyneka, etc. May 16, 1978.


Esther Salman - Nurse and teacher to China and the Philippines

Collection 52, T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3 3/4 ips, 96 minutes. One side only. Interview with Esther Salzman by Wheaton College student, Fred Baker. Discussion of education at Wheaton College, missionary service in China and the Philippines, communism in China. Recorded on October 28, 1978.


Carol Carlson - Missionary to Tibet

Collection 58, T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, 57 minutes. One side. Interview of Mrs. Carol Carlson by Ellen Balmer. November 11, 1978.


Elizabeth M. Evans - teacher and staff person with the New England Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals, missionary to Taiwan

Collection 279, T5 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 speed, 74 minutes. Oral history interview with Elizabeth Evans by Robert Shuster in which she discusses the founding and development of the NEF, her Christian education work, and some NEF speakers. August 28, 1985. One side.


Deborah Seymour - Missionary to Honduras

Collection 316, T3 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, 34 minutes. One side only. Interview with Deborah J. Seymour by Robert Shuster. Discussion of women's role in missionary work, acceptance of evangelicals in Honduras, relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals, Honduran church, culture shock, and spiritism; August 4, 1986.


David Adeney - Evangelist working with college students in China

CN 393, T3 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, 60 minutes, one side only. Oral history interview with David Adeney by Paul A. Ericksen, recorded on November 14, 1988. Topics covered include missionary work in Henan province, communism, evangelism and church work, China IVF, and work among students.


T. Michael Flowers - Evangelist

Collection 431, T5 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips speed, approximately 71 minutes. One side. Continuation of interview on T4. Discussion of beginning of Southern Gospel Mission Association, social position of blacks in the South, problems in the way the American church is handling racial problems, Flowers' sermon preparation habits.


William A. Drury - Evangelist and youth worker

Collection 492, T4 - (43 minutes). Overlap from the end of tape T3; use of a sidewalk artist in evangelism; Crayton Dunlop {sp?] and Jack Wyrtzen; leading an outdoor summer evangelism campaign for the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia; conversion of a seminary student; reactions of seminary students to outdoor evangelism; the need to avoid lengthy preaching in street corner evangelism; Billy Graham's sermon at Percy Crawford's funeral; the need to avoid religious jargon and give a simple, brief message; how to handle threats and violence when preaching; examples of men who used every opportunity to tell others about the need for salvation; becoming a speaker for the Christian Businessmen's Club in Philadelphia; CBMC's sponsorship of Percy Crawford youth rallies (Youtharama) in Philadelphia; Drury's involvement in the rallies; description of how he joined Crawford's ministry full-time in 1957; debts and other problems of Youtharama


President of the World Christian Fellowship at Wheaton during the 1995 awakening

CN 514, T58 - Interview with Wheaton College junior [and WCF president] by Paul Ericksen. [The WCF president] was chairman of the World Christian Fellowship and one of the leaders during the 1995 revival. Topics discussed include: family background, story of [the WCF president]'s conversion, development of his faith, reason for coming to Wheaton, prayer as one of the causes of the revival, [the WCF president]'s prayer and fasting for revivals, convergences of providence, reason for bringing the students from Howard Payne University to speak about the revival on that campus, the discussion in the WCF cabinet, assistance from Kevin Engel, efforts involved in arranging for the students to come from Howard Payne, description of these students, planning the WCF meeting ([the WCF president] refers to the agenda in folder 1-5), contribution of Kevin Engel, comparison between events at Howard Payne and Wheaton, openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit, sign that the revival was a real work of God, description of the confessions, attendance at the first meeting, [the WCF president]'s role in the meeting, the videotaping of the meeting, [the WCF president]'s observation of students at the start of the meeting, impact of the testimony of the students from Howard Payne, comments on students giving confessions, prayer by groups of students for those who confessed, attitudes of students waiting to confess, the importance of listening to the confessions, leaders of the meetings, characteristics of the different nights of the revivals, comments by Timothy Beougher and Lyle Dorsett on Wednesday night, end of confessions, Thursday as an evening of celebration, prayer for students committed to full-time Christian service, participation by Wheaton College president Duane Litfin, some significant memories from the meetings, response to news of the revival, role of leadership at the meetings, sincereness of the confessions, meetings of the leadership group, God working through the entire group, methods of the leadership, part played by [the WCF president] and Kevin Engel, contribution of Timothy Beougher, Lyle Dorsett, and Stephen Kellough, how decisions were reached, discussion on whether to let the confessions continue, influx of people in and out during the meetings, questions about the revival.

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Last Revised: 9/8/01
Last Revised: 6/22/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006