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The Life History Interview

  • Erin Jessee
Reference work entry

Abstract

In this chapter, I explore the “best practices” and core values with which researchers should align when conducting life history interviews to elicit information about an individual’s past and present lived experiences. Drawing primarily on literature from the multidisciplinary field of oral history, I outline the process of determining in which circumstances life history interviews might be beneficial for addressing a research question and how life history interviews are typically designed, conducted, and analyzed. I also examine the challenges that can arise when conducting life history interviews, particularly when investigating sensitive subject matter or working in conflict-affected settings, for example. In the process, I reflect on over a decade of fieldwork in post-genocide Rwanda and Bosnia, wherein discussions of the past are often highly politicized and researcher fatigue – particularly related to the recent atrocities – is common. This provides a starting point for discussing how the best practices for life history interviewing may need to be adapted to ensure that they remain culturally and politically appropriate in different settings. Taken together, the chapter provides readers with a foundation for deciding where life history interviews might enhance their research, and how to adapt current best practices on life history interviewing to suit their research needs and maintain a high ethnic standard in their fieldwork when documenting intimate details about participants’ lives.

Keywords

Life history Interview Ethics Methodology Intersubjectivity Memory 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Modern HistoryUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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