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Oral histories can be an effective way to counteract silences in the archival record. If you're considering an oral history project focused on Duke's history and would like to archive the final recordings here at the University Archives, please follow the guidelines laid out below.

We encourage you to talk with us at the beginning of your project, so that we can answer any questions about the archiving process and point you toward useful University Archives collections for your background research.

Release Forms

Release forms that have been carefully reviewed and signed by each interviewee are necessary to ensure that we’re able to provide research access to the oral histories once they’re part of the University Archives' collections.

Before the oral history interview, download and customize this release form (PDF; Word Document). (Note that there are several places you’ll need to customize before you print copies for the interviewee to sign.)

Please let your interviewee read over the release form before you begin the oral history. He/she/they should sign the release form after the oral history recording is completed.

Ask each interviewee to sign two copies of the release form—one is for them to keep and the other should be given to the University Archives along with the oral history recording.


Frank Clyde Brown and his recording equipment, 1939
Frank Clyde Brown and his recording equipment, 1939

Equipment Tips and Technical Support

As part of your project planning, read over this “quick reference” for recording oral histories put together by the Rubenstein Library's Audiovisual Archivist.

Audio and video recording devices are available from The Link, on the lower level of Bostock Library. The Link or the Multimedia Project Studio (also on the lower level of Bostock Library) should be able to help with quick how-tos about the recording devices or troubleshooting questions. 

Audacity is another option for making the recording.

We don’t recommend using your phone to make these recordings.

The oral history should be captured as a .wav file. The best practice is to preserve the original recording, so please don’t worry about editing or clean-up. 


Conducting the Oral History

When you begin your oral history recording, state:

  • the date (month, day, and year)
  • your location (city, state)
  • your full name
  • your interviewee’s full name

If your interviewee is a student, you may also want to ask for your interviewee’s school, major, class year, and hometown.

Before the oral history interview, research your interviewee's life, as well as what Duke was like when they were here. This information will help you to ask informed questions during the interview. (Ask us if you're not sure how to approach this research!)

It’s a good idea to have a set of starter questions ready before you begin (you can ask more in-the-moment follow-up questions based on the interviewee’s responses).

Speak clearly and audibly (and ask your interviewee to do so as well) so that you can get the best recording possible.

If you or your interviewee make a mistake, keep recording—it’s OK! 

It’s possible that your interviewee might say something that they decide they want to correct or remove from the final oral history. We can take care of removing that portion of the oral history from the original recording. If there is a section of the oral history to be removed, please note as carefully as possible the beginning and end of the section (timestamps are best, if possible) and check in with us.

Once we begin to make the oral histories available at the University Archives, it can be more difficult to remove portions of the oral history. Researchers may have already listened to the recording, or we may have made transcripts, etc. Please stress to your interviewee that their oral history will be available for public research at the University Archives and that any proposed changes or edits need to be discussed with us soon after the completion of the recording.


Getting the Recordings to the University Archives

Save the .wav file of each oral history with the file name [interviewee last name][interviewee first name]_[date of interview as YYYYMMDD]. For example, smithjane_20160413.wav

Complete this online form to provide basic metadata (descriptive information) about each oral history recording to be given to the University Archives. This information will help us make the oral history ready for public research. The form asks for the following information:

  • Interviewee’s full name and date of birth
  • Interviewer’s full name.
  • Date of the interview.
  • Location of the interview (city, state, country).
  • Setting of the interview (home, workplace, public space).
  • Duration of the interview in minutes and seconds.
  • Abstract of the interview (a broad description in one or two sentences).


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