Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Illinois Veterans & Community Classroom Project
Students as Digital Historians

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Recruiting Interviewees

 While many of these brave men and women were reluctant to discuss their service with family, they are often now willing to tell their stories to project  students.

Contacting Veterans

Finding veterans who are willing to participate is a local effort.  Many times students have family members who are willing to participate.  Projects can also contacted local veterans organizations.  The links below provide contact information for the many veterans' groups across Illinois.


Veterans Friends -

VFW Find a Post -

American Legion Post Locator -

Once participants are located a packet of information including the required release forms are sent to the interviewee.  This includes the Bio Data Sheet students will need to conduct pre-interview research.  Below is an example of an invitation sent to veterans from a project teacher for an interview event at Astoria HS.  Many projects have found it expedient to set up one day where they bring veterans into one site such as a church or the school where multiple interview rooms are set up.

 Sample interview invitation schools can send to veterans -Astoria Veteran Interview Invitation.doc

Conducting Interviews

Techniques and Processes

Excerpt from A Guide for Conducting Oral Histories- The Interview

 "I approach each interview as a new story that I want to hear. Every person I speak with has a story to tell, and my goal is to help him or her tell that story. Although I have a list of questions with me and have done some background research, I do not get lost in the questions. Instead I have a conversation with the person. I am familiar enough with what I want to know that I only need to refer to my list of questions in an emergency. If I am always looking at my questions I am not listening to the person, which can make them uncomfortable and stiff. The most important thing is to LISTEN..... When you listen and allow them to tell their story in their way, this is where you will find the gems, the magic moments."

This insight from a seasoned interviewer can help students understand the mindset needed for a successful interview,  Preparation and practice are vital to success.  Students can practice by interviewing each other, or family members.

Interview Questions

The Illinois Veterans' Classroom project provides a set of suggested interview questions (see link below) based on the Library of Congress Veterans' History Project Field Kit.  It is best to start interviews with simple, straight-forward questions on biographical data.  These questions are easy for the interviewee to answer, and helps put them at ease,

After their review of the veteran's Bio Data Sheet and their pre-interview research, students should be encouraged to modify or add questions they deem Important.  They should also be prepared to ask follow-up questions during the interview itself. 

Excerpt from A Guide for Conducting Oral Histories- The Interview

"Even though I have a list of questions prepared, a lot of my questions come from listening to their answers. I cannot stress enough that the interviewers job is to listen. Once you ask a question listen to the answer. Try to get into a conversation, without constantly interrupting stories. Rather than just going through a checklist of questions, This is what will make the interview personal and special."

As this excerpt above illustrates, the questions should be used as a basis for a conversation, not a question and answer session.  Again practice interviews can help hone this skill.

Suggested Questions for Veterans.doc

Interview Prep

Research Using Bio Sheet

Every good interview begins with a great deal of work having been done before the subject ever sits down in front of the camera.  Every interviewee is asked to fill out a  Library of Congress Bio sheet (see link below) prior to the interview.  This sheet is used as the basis for background research by the students prior to the interview.  This research provides students with background knowledge that enables them to ask follow-up questions and better comprehend the context of their veteran's story.


Interviewing Tips

Interview Setup

Lighting, camera, Sound

Filming Video

 The links below provide basic information to help your students set up for their interviews.  Bad lighting, sound, or camera work can adversely effect the quality of the final project.  Proper set up  can eliminate a lot of time consuming "fixes" later.



How do you properly light an interview subject?  This site will show you how.  There's even a flash 3 point lighting simulator that shows you the effects of improper lighting.


How to compose a shoot when filming an interview

This site discusses the importance of shot framing and use of background.


Overall Guide

Includes insights on sound, shooting technique, background and lighting.


Recording Sound for an Interview

Discusses mic types and placement

Capturing Artifacts


Part of telling the veteran's story will be told using artifacts that the veteran retained related to their service.  you will need to plan on bringing scanners and other digital equipment to capture and preserve these artifacts.  The following is a list of items that your veteran might bring.  You may be able to complete the process during the interview by having a team of students working to scan or photograph the artifacts.  Many times the veteran will want to show the artifacts to the students and use them to tell his/her story.  Students should keep the camera running during this time.  Digital images should be clearly named. 

If the process of capturing the items cannot be completed during the interview timeframe, ask the veteran if you can process the items and return the originals plus a digital copy to them by a preset deadline. Post it notes can be used to label artifacts for processing after the veteran leaves. 

Examples of possible artifacts include, but are not limited to:
Photos related to wartime service
Family photos from service period
Veteran photos
Letters to/from family & friends
Original artwork
Wartime memoirs or diaries
Official military personnel documents
Medals, pins
Unit histories/yearbooks
Models of ships, planes, etc.