An Oral History Project: Experience of Migration in your Local Community

Oral history uses interviews to capture personal experiences of history, and this project is concerned with personal experiences of migration. We will all experience migration during our lives, either directly or indirectly; our ‘globalised’ world is characterised by population movement. Most of our communities have been shaped by recent or historical migration; and at some point, most of us will leave our places of birth for other places in our own or another country. Why not use oral history interviews to capture experiences of migration in your local communities? Before you continue, you may wish to read about the challenges and opportunities presented by oral history as a means of learning about the past. If so, please see below for a short reading list.

The interview

Select a member of your local community to interview; this could be a relative, family friend, teacher or a religious leader. You may wish to make an audio or video recording of the interview, but you must obtain the permission of your subject before doing this. For more information on the laws that regulate the collection and storage of personal data and for templates of consent forms, see:

We recommend that you begin the interview with some basic biographical questions and develop a conversation from there: How long has your subject lived in the community? Where did they live before? Do they consider themselves an immigrant in their community? It might be fruitful to consider the different types of ‘community’ to which your subject has belonged and the different types of ‘migration’ they have experienced.

Reflecting on your finds

Describing and interpreting data is an essential academic skill, and we suggest that you take some time to reflect on the findings of your interview. You may wish to write a short essay on your findings or discuss them with a group of friends. (If you do share your findings with others, please seek your subject’s permission before divulging their identity). We encourage you to consider the following themes: the relationship between your subject and wider social processes; the social and political function of remembering; emotion as a subject of historical research and category of historical evidence; the strengths and weaknesses of oral history as a historical source. Good Luck!

Suggested Reading list

- Yvette J. Kopijn, “The Oral History Interview in a Cross-Cultural Setting: An Analysis of Its Linguistic, Social and Ideological Structure,” in Narrative and Genre, ed. Mary Chamberlain and Paul Thompson (Routledge, 1998), 142–59.

- Alessandro Portelli, "What Makes Oral History Different," in Ibid, 63-74.

- Stephen M. Sloan, “Swimming in the Exaflood: Oral History Information in the Digital Age,” in Oral History and Digital Humanities: Voice, Access, and Engagement, ed. Douglas A. Boyd and Mary Larson, First edition. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 175–86.

- Paul Thompson, "The Voice of the Past: Oral History," in The Oral History Reader, eds. Robert Perks et al., (London: Routledge, 1998), 21-28.

- Alistair Thomson, 'Memory and Remembering in Oral History', in the Oxford Handbook of Oral History, ed. Donald Ritchie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 77-95.