Should an interviewee display a reluctance to talk about a certain subject, you might need to spend more time with him or her to understand why he or she might be reluctant. There might be several reasons for hesitation – perhaps the interview has not warmed up yet and the interviewee does not trust you enough to tell you. If this is the case, then do spend more time talking about other topics, gain his or her confidence before coming back to that topic. If on the other hand, the reluctance continues, it is best to let it go. You might be disappointed, but when you listen to what you have recorded, you might find that the other stories your interviewee has recounted are equally interesting.
The Story Catcher is an interview-based tool based on the oral history method to elicit stories from people. The Story Catcher suggests questions and topics that you can adapt for your own purposes when speaking with people whose stories you wish to record and upload to Evergreen Stories portal. Using this tool, you ask questions that tell us a little about your narrator and also elicit stories that they wish to share with you and the world.
There are many ways to approach this question. If you already know that your parent, grandparent, teacher or friend has a story that is memorable, historical or interesting, you could go to that person right away with questions and record that story. The other way you could select the person you wish to interview is by selecting a theme and looking at people in your community or neighbourhood who would be able to speak about those themes. You could establish contact in the neighbourhood or community by talking to family, friends and other people in the community. Sometimes, one interview could lead to other potential interviewees. But sometimes, a short session using the story catcher could fetch unexpected results. You could begin by using the tool to interview a family member.
Sometimes people refuse to be interviewed or even if they are willing to speak, refuse to be recorded. We need to understand why some people might not wish to tell their stories or be recorded. If you think that the reason has to do with fear of being recorded, you need to explain to the person that he or she has the right to withdraw his story or any part of the story during the interview. The Story Catcher tool uses the oral history method and therefore, the ethics of oral history interviewing is applicable here – the interviewee has the right to refuse to continue with the interview or withdraw the recording if he or she chooses to. It is also good to explain to your interviewees that their stories are being recorded for posterity and would enable a future generation to learn about the past. If your story-teller is not convinced, you must respect that and not attempt to record or use the story without their knowledge.
The best way to get stories is to put your interviewee at ease. The oral history interview technique on which the story catcher is based, therefore asks you to begin with biographical questions. Begin by asking people about their family life, their childhood and school lives. This makes interviewees feel at ease. The chronological approach can often make it easier for elders to make connections between past and present and make recollection an enjoyable process.
India is a land of many languages, it is possible that your interviewee might be most at ease, in his or her mother tongue and it is also possible, that you do not speak that language. It would be good to have a translator with you, during the interview. But it would be best to conduct the interview in a language you do know.
It is important to make your interviewee feel at ease before you start recording your interview. The pre-interview – either as a face to face meeting or a telephone conversation, is important so you can introduce yourself, your project and find out a date a time convenient for your interviewee.You might want to explain that Evergreen Stories will host the story in its portal and that you as interviewer will also donate an amount for the planting of trees for your interviewee’s story to be online. You might wish to take photographs during the interview, or video the interview and you could talk about the permission (release forms) that your interviewee would need to sign. You need to put your interviewee completely at ease at this point. You also need to explain that your interviewee could withdraw at any point and could ask you to stop recording, if he or she does not feel at ease.
Your purpose is to record a story, or a narrative. That may not happen if your interviewee gives you brief answers. You might want to ask open-ended question “What did you do as a family during festivals?” as a follow-up to questions like “Tell me about your family – how many siblings do you have?” Ask questions that encourage them to describe their home, the environment, events and feelings.
You can select a set of topics and adapt a set of questions from the Story Catcher tool section. >
Sometimes stories, particularly those about loved ones who are gone can elicit very emotional responses. Your interviewee might weep as they recall the past. Should this happen, do give them time to remember and then quietly ask if they would like to continue or reschedule the recording for another time.
Sometimes interviewees might answer all your questions and yet the interview might not have a single story. When you have finished, listen to the recording. You could possibly use it as a life story which is interesting in itself. If you think your interviewee has not elaborated something which could be a potential story, take notes and go back with fresh questions. People are full of stories, you just need to listen carefully.
Always check the battery before you start recording. Check your equipment an do a test recording and play it back, this would serve a double purpose – it would put your interviewee at ease and at the same time ensure that your equipment is functioning properly. If after taking all precautions you find that your equipment has not recorded, apologise and request your interviewee for another opportunity to record a story
If your interviewee is elderly, they could tire easily. Do watch their body language and see if they display signs of tiredness – slumping in their chair, restlessness etc., pause your recording, and ask them if they would like to rest, you can resume later or return another day. If the person indicates that he or she has no more to say, always ask if there is anything you haven’t asked that they might want to talk about, sometimes, a new story or two emerges.