What is oral history? It’s a question we got asked a lot when the Canada Indonesia Diaspora Society first pitched the LANSIA Oral History Project, an initiative that aims to preserve the untold stories of Indonesian-born Canadian immigrants.

CIDS felt passionately about collecting these stories from the source: the people who experienced them. And, with a grant from the federal government, and lots of support from close community players, we started to gather information on Indonesia-to-Canada migration patterns while honouring the perspective and the emotions of the people who experienced it first hand.

So, how are we getting this information? Through a technique of oral history: interviewing.

Recently, we wrapped up an interview training seminar to help our volunteers make the best of their interviews – and we’re happy to share our secrets with you!


  • Ask open-ended questions. (ie. “WHAT do you think of this decision?”)
  • Shut up and listen. If someone says something interesting, follow it up.
  • Write down questions as an outline, but don’t be a slave to them. Best to have them memorized.
  • Appear relaxed, even if you aren’t. It will make your subjects more relaxed.
  • Be prepared. Research the topic and your interview subject beforehand.
  • If you don’t understand something, say so. Most people don’t mind explaining themselves.
  • Don’t trust your source to know what the most newsworthy information is; direct it out of them.
  • Phone interviews can be just as good as in-person interviews. Avoid email interviews – lack follow-up, hard to get emotion.
  • Avoid asking more than one question at a time, your subject will only answer one.
  • Finish every interview with these two questions: “Is there anything else you think is important to add?” and “Is there anyone else you think is important to talk to?”


Write a comment:


Your email address will not be published.

Follow us: