Oral History: Best Practices

Session Leader: Andi Dixon, Jonah Bossewitch

Day: Sunday
Time: 3:30—5:00
Room: W302

Session Notes


Oral history is the systematic collection of living people’s testimony about their own experiences. Oral historians attempt to verify their findings, analyze them, and place them in an accurate historical context.

Oral historians, like documentarians, must exercise a great deal of care in treating their subjects with respect and dignity. Open web video makes this an even more important consideration, as context can quickly be lost, and subjects can be presented in unanticipated, unintended, and inappropriate ways.

What are the emerging best practices for oral history in the age of open video? How can documentarians take advantage of the web while staying respectful of their subjects?

In this session, we’ll begin with a screening of a long-form trailer for Project Rebirth, a project that chronicles intimate stories of ten people coping post 9/11 with footage from the rebuilding of Ground Zero (and a powerful work of oral history).

We will proceed to an open discussion of that project, general lessons, and explore through participants’ experiences what generalizations can be drawn about best practices for oral history.


Documentarians, oral historians, and anyone with an interest in archives, representation, open video and ethics are invited to join. We will discuss and begin imagining a code of best practices for oral historians who use the web in their projects.