MyHistoricLA: Part 2 – MyStory

The “MyStory” section of the MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation gives detailed directions for conducting interviews as a way “to gather information about individual properties and areas and to create a richer understanding of the history of the neighborhood.” Interviews with knowledgeable people can often be an effective way to “fill in” information needed about properties you have already identified. For example, locals who have lived in the area for a long period of time can help explain things like the history of the site, how a building has been changed or modified in the past, or how that property relates to historically significant individuals, events, or businesses.

Interviews can also be a great way to find out about previously unidentified properties, that might otherwise go unnoticed and might not be surveyed. Locals who have lived in a community for a long time often have an unmatched awareness of the stories behind the buildings in the area. It’s impossible for a surveyor doing a purely visual inspection of a property to gain the same knowledge. The only way for a surveyor to find such information out on their own is to conduct background research on the property, but in order to trigger that research it helps to have some initial indication that a property might be significant.

That’s where you come in! Have you ever wanted to try your hand at interviewing someone? Are there students in the neighborhood who could do oral histories or interviews as part of school projects? The MyHistoricLA Guide gives a comprehensive set of instructions that will let anyone conduct effective interviews:

The information may be gathered with a simple question-and-answer format conducted by interviewers with minimal training. The information gathered during the interview can be adequately recorded by the interviewer on the Interview Questionnaires (page 61–64) and therefore no recording equipment or formal training is necessary to successfully complete this activity for MyHistoricLA.

In addition, the guide has information about establishing an oral history program in the “Beyond SurveyLA” appendix, if you would like to record the interviews for future use by the community.

Equipment/Supplies needed:

  • Note taking supplies (clipboard, pen/pencil, paper).
  • Interview Questionnaire (pages 61–64 of the MyHistoricLA Guide) related to specific properties, people, or events.
  • If your neighborhood has opted to record the interviews for preservation within the community, you will need recording equipment (a basic tape recorder and microphone to more sophisticated digital recorders or video recording equipment).
  • Digital camera.
  • Bottled water for the interviewer and interviewee.
  • Map or guide of the neighborhood to identify general location(s) or resources discussed in the interviews

SurveyLA itself will not be collecting recordings of interviews, whether tape or digital files; all the relevant information provided in interviews should go into the MyHistoricLA Neighborhood Data Table for submission to the Office of Historic Resources. However, the instructions for conducting interviews will help establish all the prerequisites for collecting valuable oral histories, and individual neighborhoods can then preserve the interviews and oral histories as they see fit.

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About Steve Duncan

Urban explorer, photographer, and historian.
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