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Capturing the Living Past: An Oral History Primer

2. Glossary

Oral historians use a variety of terms to describe their work.
The following list will introduce you to some of the words and terms used frequently in the subsequent sections of this primer.

Copyright: The exclusive legal right of the creator to reproduce, publish, distribute, and sell literary, musical, and artistic works. To see how copyright relates to oral history, see Section 3.

Informant: See narrator.

Interviewee: See narrator.

Life interview: An oral history interview that focuses on one person, usually in a series of interviews. This process results in detailed documentation of the person's life experiences. In contrast, see project interview.

Narrator (also called interviewee or informant): The person being interviewed. The narrator is chosen because of his or her knowledge and ability to communicate that information.

Oral history: A primary source document created in an interview setting with a narrator for the purpose of collecting and preserving that person's firsthand information about an event, period of time or way of life and making it available to researchers. The term oral history also refers to the information collected in such an interview. Oral historians believe oral histories result from a process that must contain certain elements.

Primary source: First-hand information communicated by a witness to or a participant in an event or way of life. See also secondary source.

Project interview: An oral history interview that focuses on a specific topic. Interviews for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, for example, focus on one subject or one part of a narrator's life. In contrast, see life interview.

Recording abstract (also called a tape log): A list of subjects covered in the interview in the order in which they were discussed, usually done at two- to five-minute intervals and identified with a recording time count. It does not include the questions asked and does not have to be in complete sentences, but should be descriptive enough for a user to find specific information on the recording. It is more accurate to use a stopwatch to time the count than the counter on the recorder when developing a recording abstract, because calibrations on different recorders may vary greatly. See also transcript. For more information, see Section 10.

Recording equipment: The equipment used to record an interview. It may be in analog or digital format and is either audio or video. The use of broadcast-quality equipment and an external microphone are highly recommended. For a more detailed discussion, see Section 5.

Recording media: The physical materials onto which the recordings are made and kept. They may be analog or digital, magnetic or optical. For more information, see Section 5.

Release form: A document that transfers copyright in an interview to a designated owner, and may outline restrictions on use of the interview material. The form is signed by the interviewer and the narrator and by any other people whose voices are heard on the recording. This is done as soon as the interview ends, even if more interview sessions are planned. For more information, see Section 3, and for an example, see the Appendix.

Repository: A museum, archives, library, cultural center or other institution where materials of historical or cultural importance are collected, housed, preserved and made available for use.

Secondary source: A publication or other document created using various types of historical information, including primary sources.

Transcript: A word-for-word printed copy of the interview. See also recording abstract. For more information, see Section 10.


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