National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

Abstract: Oral history is a powerful, participatory way to reclaim our history and re-imagine our internal narratives. Concrete information about planning and growing an oral history project will be offered by the creator of an award-winning, bilingual project that gathered, transcribed and archived 200 consumer/survivor oral histories in New York State. 

Presentation Outline 

Peer-run oral history projects are powerful, participatory activities that allow consumers/ survivors/ex-patients (c/s/x) to document the history of the mental health system from the perspectives of those who have lived through it. Such projects allow us to reclaim our own history, which differs from the “official” version, and provide opportunities for healing as we restructure our own internal narratives. 

The presenters created an oral history project that recorded, transcribed, and archived almost 200 oral histories of peers in New York State from 1999-2003, and won the 2003 New York State Board of Regents’ Archives Award for Excellence in Documenting New York’s History.  They will lead participants through the steps they took to create the project, and will offer concrete information on key topics such as: 

  • Why create an oral history project?
  • Publicizing the project and recruiting participants
  • How to prepare for an oral history: pre-interview data collection and documentation
  • How to conduct an oral history interview: the art of setting the person at ease, moving from objective to emotional topics; asking open-ended questions, following up and probing answers; ending on a good note.
  • Types of recording equipment
  • Transcription; review and correction of printed transcripts
  • Archiving your work
  • Using oral histories in art, advocacy and history projects

The presenter will provide examples of oral history transcripts, handouts with step-by-step instructions, and a bibliography of oral history resources. 

Goal: Participants will learn concrete information about the tools, resources, and information needed to create a successful consumers/survivor/ex-patient oral history project. 

Learning objectives:

1) Participants will be introduced to the idea that the history of psychiatry from  consumers/survivors/ex-patients’ (c/s/x) perspectives tells a very different story than the  “official” history.

2) Participants will learn how the presenters created a viable, award-winning project that  gathered, transcribed and archived almost 200 c/s/x oral histories.

3)  Participants will be introduced to skills and resources that will help them create their own  oral history projects.

4)  Participants will understand the parallels between reclaiming our history as a community  and restructuring our own internal narratives as a part of our healing process.