Most of what we learn is passed on to us verbally. We reinforce this knowledge with reading and writing, but we’ll hear far more in our lives than we’ll ever read or write.
We shouldn’t minimize the importance of reading and writing, but we need to see that knowledge that people have in their heads is a valuable resource for our research, whether we’re working on a thesis, learning about our family history or anything else.
Part of scholarly research involves finding primary source material upon which to build our new research. Sometimes the information that we are looking for isn’t contained in sources that we have access to, or perhaps the information is just really hard to track down. In this case you can create your own sources!
The key is to find people who have firsthand knowledge of your subject. For example, if you are writing a paper on the experience of American nurses during World War II, you could ask those questions directly to those women who are still with us. If you are able to meet them face to face, with their permission, you could record the interview with a camcorder, digital audio recorder, or even a smartphone!
If you aren’t able to meet someone in person, why not do so online? You can use Skype, Google video chat or Facetime, or another service. Don’t ignore this option just because you think the interviewee isn’t technically savvy. Maybe they are, or perhaps they have a friend or grandchild that could help.
Another option is to send a letter or email. The disadvantage with letters is that there is a long delay in between responses, but it is still better than nothing. Email is a more responsive medium, but being able to talk directly is valuable if you can arrange it.
The questions that you ask and the way that you conduct the interview are subjects for another post, but I just want you to start thinking about the possibility.
Have you ever interviewed someone?