Oral History – Collecting Oral History


Women’s Memorial chief historian Judy Bellafaire interviews Navy physician CAPT Sandra Arlene Yerkes, MC, USN at the Women’s Memorial, March 1, 2006. CAPT Yerkes currently serves as Deputy for the Chief of the Medical Corps.


Collecting the oral histories of American servicewomen is a rewarding volunteer opportunity. Volunteers are needed to conduct oral histories and transcribe oral history interviews. Local volunteers are also needed at the Foundation office. As a primary research methodology, oral history is vital to the creation of a more nuanced social history. And, individual narratives capture much broader social, political and cultural trends in 20th Century American history. There is nothing complicated about interviewing people. All you need is time, a set of thoughtful questions, basic equipment, Women’s Memorial Consent Form and the willingness to listen.

Read Excerpts From "A Century of Service; A Century of Sacrifice"

Oral history weaves the individual experience into a diverse, collective American tapestry. The voices of American servicewomen call attention to fundamental historical questions of citizenship, race, class, gender, religion, sexuality and geography. Oral history captures memories of challenge and determination, love stories, regional histories and family traditions. They are focused around one common denominator: military service.

Collecting the voices of American servicewomen is the first step in refining traditional military history. The Women's Memorial Foundation published a guide, HerStory: An Oral History Handbook for Collecting Military Women's Stories, to help you collect the oral histories of family members, neighbors, local retirement community residents or servicewomen at an installation in your area. This short guide, available for $1 (plus tax) from the Memorial's Gift Shop, contains complete instructions on how to conduct oral histories and donate them to the Foundation's collection. The guide also includes a timeline of significant events in military women's history, a bibliography of standard reference works and basic interviewing tips. 

What Should We Talk About? |  Conducting an Interview

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