A while ago I heard a lecture presenting an intriguing project to record people’s stories: StoryCorps. Founded in 2003, in its own words StoryCorps has become “… one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. […] StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
StoryCorps offers the chance to record people’s life experiences about certain topics in soundproof recording booths, either alone or with a partner. Those records are archived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. If you agree, your record could be part of a selection that is made available online or on air. And of course the participants will get a CD with the recording to share with family and friends as they wish.
There are several ways to record your story or interview with StoryCorps:
- Currently there are three StoryBooths in the States, in Atlanta, Chicago and SanFrancisco. There seems to be a very long waiting list to get an appointment for a recording session.
- Since 2005 StoryCorps also has a mobile booth that travels across the States and offers the same opportunity. The waiting lists seem to be long as well.
- As of late you can record your stories with the StoryCorpsApp. This app provides you with everything you need to prepare, carry out and finish your interviews from within the walls of your home.
Recording oral history at home
Now as I live in Germany, StoryCorps’ first two options aren’t easily accessible to me, or even to a lot of US citizens. And maybe you are just not keen of installing yet another app on your cell phone. But there is always the option of just using your cell phone’s regular recording functions to start on your own.
What would be good topics to talk about? StoryCorps has a bunch of good suggestions for a start. Very likely those topics will trigger more questions and memories while people talk about them.
That particular evening the lecturer showed us how he let his mother talk about Christmas in her youth. He filmed his mother with his cell phone while he slipped in a question or two at some points. But mostly he just let her talk about what came to her mind about Christmas long time ago. He showed us several small snippets of the interview, with his mother’s permission of course.
Seeing this lady come alive with her memories was a delight to see. Her eyes lighted up at certain points when she suddenly remembered more. And what’s even better: her (grand-)children will have the chance to see their (grand-)mother and even listen to her talking about her memories. Even at a time when she will not be around any longer. Isn’t that a splendid way to cherish and preserve memories? Wouldn’t that be nice if our ancestors had been able to do that in one way or another so we could see and hear them today?
Record local history as well
While I listened to the lecturer I thought that it also might be a good opportunity to interview our village’s elderly people at their monthly get-together. They know so much about old customs and traditions without even realizing it. One memory sparks another, and that might even spark three more. “Do you remember that one time when … ?“
While some people don’t mind being filmed, others are quite suspicious of it. So maybe just doing an audio recording of their stories might be a good way to start. I’ll ponder about that a bit more before I suggest that to the people who organize those monthly get-togethers.
So, did you ever record your family’s stories in one way or another? What were your experiences with it? What would you suggest as topics to talk and reminiscence about?