Oral history is hot — everyone is doing it and the interest continues to grow. Now, there are good ways and bad ways to capture information in oral history, and like anything else it takes practice. So find a training, read one of the gazillion good sources and practice (Contact me for a selected bibliography) . I did an internship at Maine Public Radio a thousand years ago and the single best advice I got was: do not make your first interview that very important, once-in-a-lifetime one. Save that until you’ve got a little mileage behind you and feel really comfortable.
If you’re considering buying an audio recorder I’ve got some sources for you. Having done both radio and oral history, I really (really, really) believe that sound quality is extremely important. Get good equipment & learn how to use it. Always use a microphone (and headphones!) and if possible mic everyone talking on the recording. People will roll their eyes and complain about these recommendations but really, this is ORAL history. What good is a recording if you can’t hear or understand the speaker? Plus, you or someone else may want to use that sound someday. Get the best quality sound you can now because it opens up your options later on. And, as I always say, if a blurry photo makes poor documentary evidence then isn’t poor quality sound in an oral history unacceptable?
Okay. Lecture is over.
My favorite online source for equipment advice is this page from the Vermont Folklife Center, http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/archive/res_audioequip.htm. Those people really know their stuff and they spent a lot of time recording interviews in the field. They keep this relatively up to date, as well. The staff at Maine Folklife Center have always been very helpful, too.
In response to the blog post about Thomaston students doing oral history, a reader sent me the following link: http://www.americanmusical.com/content–id-45. It is a store so I’m not recommending it, but it has a lot of recorders & lots of info. A very good place to start shopping if you’re in the market.