Balance and Imbalance: Conflicts in Interpretation

In a few weeks I will be going down to South Carolina to begin the interview process for my research project. In preparation I have taken notes from the Principles and Best Practices and Responsibility to the Public and to the Profession section of the Oral History Association’s website. I am very excited for my first experience as an Oral Historian. At the same time, I am very nervous. I am not nervous to talk to my established interviewees, but I am nervous about presenting the correct interpretation of the interviewees and the Horry County, South Carolina community.

The Principles and Best Practices section states that “[o]ral historians respect the narrators as well as the integrity of the research.” An oral historian must thoroughly research the subject or event to be discussed with the interviewee. However, the extensive research should not prevent the oral historian from allowing the interviewee to express his or her version of the subject or event. Oral historians should “…respect the narrators’ equal authority in the interviews….they should encourage narrators to respond to questions in their own style and language and to address issues that reflect their concerns.” I believe that this allows the oral historian to receive and interpret a human element to the abstractness of historical events. Honestly, for this part of my project I am not nervous about presenting an interpretation; because I am eager to learn about the authenticity of the interviewee’s experiences. What I am most nervous about is interpreting the silent side of my project.

Let’s be honest. I am doing a project about prejudice in the south. I am emphasizing the African-American experience and thus giving a more accentuated voice to that side of the story. I am nervous about this because in every project I do I strive for balance, and in this project I will not have a balanced perspective of both sides. This may lead to an imbalanced interpretation. The Principles and Best Practices section of the Oral History Association website says that “…if a project deals with community history, the interviewer should be sensitive to the community , taking care not to reinforce thoughtless stereotypes.”  The Responsibility to the Public and to the Profession section also states that oral historians should take care not “…to bring undue notoriety to them [the community].” My subject is a very sensitive one. An imbalance in interpretation on one side could cause “notoriety” to the Horry County community, especially since many members of general public have a preconceived idea about segregation in the southern states.

I am working on finding evidence that would give an equal voice to both sides represented in my project. In this way, I would not be “bring[ing] undue notoriety,” to the Horry County, South Carolina community. At the same time I am open to any suggestions and tips!!!!!

Jamesha Gibson



  1. ghanamnch says:

    Good luck to you as you begin your interview process! It was wise of you to read up on good interviewing practices beforehand — I wish I had had that forethought. One of the upsides to entering an interview as a fairly new oral historian is that you will get to see how interviews seem to just unfold, if you ask questions with broad enough scope. People are always very eager to talk about what they know, their experiences, and knowledge they wish to impart on others ; all you have to do is figure out how to get stories out of them, and the research often does itself.
    I really look forward to seeing what you learn — both from your aunt and your other interviewees — and reading about how it changes your outlook on our nation’s past with racial integration in schools. Segregation is an ugly mark on America’s past, but hopefully your research will be able to do justice to and preserve the experiences of those who lived through it.

  2. jameshamarquaila says:

    Thanks! I really hope I can! I about to post about what happened! Hope you’re excited!