Blog: Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program: Thoughts on Volunteer Training

Post by Allison K. Tracy

When we think about education and oral history, training volunteers for community-based oral history projects perhaps receive less attention than more traditional pedagogical efforts in oral history. It is, however, an important and vital part of the work we do to foster the use of oral history and to provide people with the tools to document their own and others’ stories.

At the Stanford Historical Society, volunteer interviewers are a vital part of the Society’s oral history program. Though interviews conducted by the Society date back to the 1980s, the program was revitalized in 2006 in part by an ambitious project to document Stanford alumni memories and stories during an annual reunion weekend. Since then the Society has conducted oral history interviews with many important faculty, staff, and others, documenting Stanford’s history as a university and a community. Most of our volunteers have a Stanford affiliation, and all have a passion for capturing personal stories.

The Society’s approach to educating volunteers has evolved over the years, utilizing both consultants and its own small staff. Multi-day workshops have been held, as well as one-on-one training sessions over the course of an afternoon.  The Society hasn’t settled on one set curriculum, and has used numerous resources to train volunteers, ranging from OHA Best Practices to its own wisdom cultivated through building an oral history program from scratch.  With the creation of my position a little over a year ago, the Society has worked to professionalize its standards. As procedures and policies have changed and evolved (and some have changed more than once), keeping volunteers up to date has been a challenge. Stanford, like so many others has forged ahead into the digital world, and yet our oral history training manual is still available in paper copy only. Indeed, the staff at Kinko’s eyes me wearily every time I walk in with what looks like a full ream of paper to be copied and bound. In thinking about ways to better serve our new and continuing volunteers, a fully digital training manual, though it seems like a simple thing, struck me as a useful tool—a way to make sure that busy volunteers who provide an invaluable service to the Society and to Stanford have easy access to current policies, procedures, and practices. It’s an idea and a summer project (hopefully not a long one!), and fewer trips to Kinko’s.

For more information about the Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program, please visit the Society’s website:

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