A guide to oral history for schools and youth groups


Ethics, copyright and consent

There’s lots of advice on this on the Legal and Ethical pages.  Below are just a few essentials.

Protecting Adults and Children


Considerations when working with children

Your school or youth group should already have a child protection policy, but it’s worth noting that when children take part in oral history training and interview each other, they sometimes reveal personal things that their families might not want shared.  For example, during one inner-city project on crime, several children revealed they’d got family members in prison.  When children were asked to interview each other about their most memorable meal, one child talked about the last meal her mother cooked before she walked out on the family.  So it’s worth telling the children that oral history is very personal, that they don’t have to answer any questions they don’t want to and that they must treat each others’ experiences with respect and not gossip about them. 

Considerations when interviewing adults

Adults too are sometimes unguarded in what they say, because the experience of being asked to talk about yourself without interruption is so unusual and triggers all kinds of memories.  It’s important to explain the purpose of the project and how the recorded material will be used before inviting someone to be interviewed. Just before the recording starts remind them only to share memories that they’re happy to be made available to the public.  

Agreement Forms

Before you record and keep people’s words and memories, you must have a written agreement. We call this a participation agreement. This form should make it clear what the project is about and what will happen to the recording. The interviewee signs the form to show that they understand and agree to take part.

After the interview, they need to sign a recording agreement. This form gives them the chance to limit the use of all or part of the recording, if they wish. It also asks them to assign the copyright to your school or organisation.

If someone loans or donates a photo or object for your project, you will need a form for that too. You will find a simple example here.

Looking after the interviewees

When people have shared very personal memories, they often feel vulnerable, so it’s a good idea to reassure them immediately after the interview and write a thank-you – or get the children to do so – as soon as possible.  The letter can repeat what you’ve already told them about the ways in which the interview will be made public and say that eventually you’ll provide them with a copy of their interview and invite them to the launch of the project.

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