Documenting Maritime Folklife: An Introductory Guide
Part 2: How to Document
Interviewing is an efficient technique for gathering data and the one
most often used by many cultural specialists. When a fieldworker conducts
he or she must determine the amount of control to be applied. A non-directed interview
encourages discussion of a wide range of topics that are largely determined
by the interests of the informant. A directed
interview is usually characterized by the interviewer's attention to very
specific topics and questions. Sometimes the interviewer may change the approach.
For example, an interviewer might switch from a directed to a non-directed
approach if it becomes evident that an informant's storehouse of traditional
presents an unusual opportunity for the documentation of many general aspects
of local culture. Data elicited during interviews can be recorded in writing
in the form of fieldnotes, or as answers to questions on a questionnaire. They
can also be recorded verbatim on audio tape with a tape recorder, or recorded
both aurally and visually on videotape with a video camera and sound unit.
In the case of interviews recorded on audio or video tape, it is proper to
informant to sign a consent form in order to establish that he or she has given
permission for the use of information on the tape. The text of the form should
specify as accurately as possible where the tape recording will be deposited
and how it may be used. If the informant wishes to place restrictions on the
use of the recording, these restrictions should be written on the form. A sample "Informant
Consent" form is
included as Appendix A.2.
There is no question that tape recorded interviews are an effective way
to collect information. To those unfamiliar with fieldwork, interviewing
may appear to be the easiest task imaginable: just turn on the tape recorder
and let the person talk. But to obtain maximum value, a tape recorded interview
should not be viewed as a replacement for background research or as a substitute
for taking notes. Furthermore, since one's time in the field is limited,
it is necessary to prepare thoroughly for interviews. Learn as much as
about the topic or topics to be discussed. Attempt to anticipate the kind
of expertise the informant possesses before the interview. Jot down notes
concerning topics to be explored. A novice should practice interviewing with
a fellow team member, friend, or family member before entering the field.
The experience of being interviewed is equally instructive and contributes
keen appreciation of the process.
Interviews recorded on tape are documents
which not only benefit the collector, but, if preserved in a repository
such as a library, museum, or archive, can
also assist future researchers. The interviewer should bear in mind that
others not present at the time of the actual interview may someday listen
to the tape.
To facilitate full and proper comprehension of the interview, pay close attention
to the technical quality of the recording, and try to clarify all issues
discussed. If, for example, an informant says "I caught a fish this big," and
holds his or her hands apart to indicate the size, the interviewer should
say, "Oh, about
thirty inches" (or whatever length is appropriate), in order to clarify the
approximate size for the benefit of those who listen to the recording later
Since the field recording should represent, as accurately as possible,
the communicative event involving the interviewer and the subject, the
interviewer should not turn the recorder on and off during the interview
in an effort to
save tape. Moreover, if the interviewer frequently turns the recorder on
and off when the subject is speaking, the subject can easily form the impression
that the interviewer considers some statements to be less valuable than others.
Fieldworkers should bring an adequate supply of tape and be prepared to let
the recorder run as freely as possible.
The use of tape catalog forms, to
be filled out by the collector as soon as possible after each interview,
is essential. Completed catalog forms strengthen
the value of recordings by providing detailed outlines of their contents.
Even if full, verbatim transcriptions of field recordings are to be made
an expensive and time-consuming process--the preparation of catalogs is still
beneficial. An "Audio Tape Log" form is included as Appendix
Interviewing is a skill of some complexity. Available guides to the
subject include Edward D. Ives's The Tape Recorded Interview: A Guide for Fieldworkers
in Folklore and Oral History, Bruce Jackson's Fieldwork,
and Kenneth S. Goldstein's A Guide for Field Workers
in Folklore.1 These works cover such key
topics as selecting an informant, learning to use recording equipment, keeping
using interviewing strategies, and cataloging and transcribing field tapes.
These topics are also covered in the instructional videotape program on interviewing, An
Oral's Historians Work, that features explanations and demonstrations
by seasoned interviewer Edward D. Ives.2
1. Edward D. Ives, The Tape Recorded
Interview: A Manual for Field Workers in
Folklore and Oral History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980);
Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1987); Kenneth
S. Goldstein, A Guide for Field Workers in Folklore (Hatboro, PA:
Folklore Associates, 1964).
Fleischhauer, "Sound Recording
and Still Photography in the Field," 387.