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University of California Los Angeles Background Introduction Discussion

University of California Los Angeles Background Introduction Discussion

Question Description

  • A well-written, and scintillating story-600-900 words- 5-7 paragraphs (including the lead and conclusion.
  • A paragraph assessing your work.

The basic point is that you want to get them back to the moment in time by drawing out specific images. So your questions must help that process. You work on specifics. You build up details. People may not remember initially. They may not initially remember the moment at all. But your questions asked slowly and specifically could help them remember more details as you go on in the interview.

Example: What was life like when you were a child?

How cold was the room in winter? How many people were in the room? What were they wearing? What paintings were on the wall? What furniture did you have? What chair did you like to sit in? Where did you sleep? What were your favorite toys?

Example: How was it to grow up on a farm?

What time did you get up to feed the chickens? What was the feed? How did it feel in your hand? What did it smell like? How many chickens did you feed? What was the ground around the coop like in the winter?

When did you graduate from college?

What did the day smell like when you graduated? What flowers were in bloom? What color were the leaves? What was traffic like?

The interviewer has to learn how to deal with sensitive subjects and a person’s feelings. You will have to play it by ear in order to get the information you need. Rapport is critical. Metzler chapter 14 is a good reference. Also, consult the links provided on sensitive topics.

To Do:

Talk with a family member or a friend about one aspect or moment in their life that was or is profound for them.

We are at a profound moment in America’s history. Two pandemics are at top of mind, Covid-19 and racism in America. The tales you uncover will be part of the story of this time. You could conduct an interview about how the virus has affected their lives. You could conduct an interview with someone who has gone to the protests.

If this isn’t of interest, maybe find out how your parents met or divorced? Ask your grandmother about her life growing up. Find out why they went to the college they went to? Or why they never went to college? Or how they came to emigrate to the US.

Be sure to confirm before you start that they are prepared for and comfortable with the topic of this interview.

Additional suggestions for topics: ( these are broad. You will have to focus it on one moment in their life.)

What was your biggest fear as a teenager?

What was your most frightening experience as a young child?

What was it like the first time you fell in love?

When did you have your heart broken?

When was your most embarrassing moment?

How did you cope with a failure in your life?

Once you choose a topic and the moment together, again make sure you are both comfortable with the exercise. If you are not comfortable, don’t pursue it. Remember you can always change topics.

Make sure you have an agreement to talk about this. It may well be a sensitive topic. Memories have a tendency to bring up emotions. Be clear. Say out loud what you are talking about and why. Make sure your boundaries are clear. Make sure you have a clear focus.

Write out your purpose ( to explore an oral history topic with sensitivity fully and ethically) and your focus and have your subject read it.

Purpose: My goal is to see how we both handle addressing this sensitive topic in an interview”)

Focus: To ask you (my mother) about your most embarrassing moment falling down a flight of stairs at your sister’s wedding.


Here are a few questions to guide you in your assessment. You will come up with others I am sure.

How did you do at probing/responding to a sensitive topic? What did you to in order to deal with it fairly and clearly? How did you know you were at an honest and sensitive place with your partner?

How did you stay sensitive to their concerns and yours?

How did you feel handling a sensitive topic?

How did you make sure that both of you stayed comfortable with your purpose of the interview, but did indeed go to a deeper place?

Did you succeed in your purpose?

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