The History of Urban Life


How to Conduct Your Oral Histories 

You will conduct an oral history with a bodega/resturant owner or worker with a group of your peers. While you do not have to be recorded on the interview, you need to work as a class, and as smaller groups in designing and transcribing this interview. The testimonies you produce will become a part of Voices from the Heart of Gotham: Undergraduate Scholars Oral History Collection at Guttman Community College.

Here is the Consent Form you and your interviewee must fill out: Fall 1 21 Consent Form


You must follow the procedures for a good interview found in the reading, Conducting Interviews and outlined in the next section. The central thing you are seeking is stories!!!

Choosing Someone to Interview

  • You will be assigned a group who will collectively conduct and interview with a small business owner in NYC.

Preparing the Questions

  • Look over the list of questions provided and write down two of the questions that you like (and why you like them), two that you do not like (and why you do not like them) and two of your own questions that relate to the theme of the interview.
  • Avoid yes and no questions, the goal is to get stories from your interviewee.

Going Over the Consent Form

  • Here is the Consent Form: Fall 1 21 Consent Form
  • With your interviewee read over the consent form and explain that the interview will be recorded and made available to the public.
    • Explain the consent form in the language most comfortable to your interviewee.
  • Make sure your interviewee is comfortable with their story being shared with the world.
  • All the people in your group who were on the recording and the interviewee must sign and date the consent form.
    • Typing your name is not sufficient to donate the oral history.
    • They/you all MUST write, or electronically sign the signature.

Recording the Interview

  • Figure out which application you will be using to record the interview.
    • You can record a zoom call, which is probably the easiest way.
    • Both iPhone and android phones have built-in software to record, however, if you are interviewing someone over the phone, or download an application that allows you to record calls.
  • Practice using your recording equipment.
  • While the interview is going on make sure the equipment is working.

Arranging a Meeting

  • Verify time/date/location of oral history interview with your interviewee (avoid loud places)
  • If the interview is over the phone, make sure they know you will be recording the interview.
  • Go over the consent forms with your interviewee while recording before beginning the interview.

During the Interview

  • Don’t be judgmental of their responses.
  • Try not to give positive or negative feedback.
  • Be casual.

Being an Active Listener

  • Give cues that you are listening.
  • Remember to ask follow-up questions. If their feels like there is more to what they are saying, ask them to share more.
  • Take notes on things you find interesting or important. This both helps you formulate follow-up questions and will remind you later of your preliminary thoughts.
  • After you finish, ask your interviewee if there is anything you should have asked but did not ask.
  • Ask if they would share a picture.
  • Ask them if they’re still comfortable sharing their interview.

After the Interview

  • Immediately jot down any thoughts or ideas you had from the interview.
  • Follow-up with the interviewee and send a note of thanks.
  • Send the interviewee a copy of the recording.

Submitting the Interview

  • As a group set up a free dropbox account with your email address. If you already have a dropbox account that is full, please create a new gmail account to use for this project.
  • Place the following things in a folder titled with your full name (FIRST NAME, LAST NAME). Within this folder place…
    • The recording of the interview
    • You must upload a photo of the person you interviewed, or if they prefer, a photo of something they talked about in their interview to the dropbox folder shared with Finesurrey.
    • The Signed Consent Form
  • Share the folder with the email

NOTE: Feel free to alter the language of any question as long as the same information is gathered.


  1. “My name is (INTERVIEWERS NAMES) and I am interviewing (INTERVIEWEE NAME) a worker at (SHOP NAME) located at (SHOP LOCATION) on (DATE). Do you give us permission to record and make public this oral history?”
  2. “Please remember throughout this interview you do not have to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable.”

Basic Information

  1. Some basic info for the interviewee:
    1. Age:
    2. Gender:
    3. Ethnicity:
  2. Where are you from?
  3. Tell me the long story about how you or your family ended up in NYC?
  4. When did you start working at (or owning) the shop?
    1. How did you begin working, starting or buying the business?

 Exploring the Business

  1. Please describe your business in your own words.
  2. Do you know anything about the history of your business or the (name business type) more generally?
    1. Has the business become a significant source of pride for you and/or your family?
    2. How long has the shop been open?
  3. How do you attract your clients?
    1. How do you stay connected to the needs and wants of your clientele? 
  4. What are some popular items you sell?


  1. Tell me about the neighborhood where your business is located, what streets is it on?
  2. What else is going on in the street?
  3. How has the street and/or neighborhood changed since you started working there?
  4. Do you consider it a safe neighborhood? 
  5. What does it look like in front of and around the store?
    1. Condition of sidewalks/streets?
    2. Is it comfortable to walk around?
    3. Access to Public Transit?
    4. Parks?
    5. Trees?
    6. Benches? 
    7. Lighting?
    8. Water fountain?
    9. Street signs?
  6. Would you like to see any changes made to the neighborhood to make it a more welcoming environment?
    1. What would those changes be?

Community — Remember you do not have to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable.

  1. Do you communicate with the neighboring shops? 
  2. Do you engage with the neighboring shops in collective activities?
    1. Is there any community bonding between local businesses?
  3. What are your hours, and how does the clientele change based on the time of day?
  4. How have you been received by the community?
  5. How have you interacted with the community?
  6. Have you ever dealt with racism/discriminations/islamophobia in your work?
  7. Are there any memorable events that took place at the store since you began working there?


  1. Has the clientele changed since you’ve worked there? In what ways? 
    1. Who comes in, and when? 
      1. Age groups? 
      2. Backgrounds?
      3. Gender?
  2. What time is the most busy?
  3. Do you develop bonds with the people who enter your shop? If so, how?

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

  1. Are there economic, technological, environmental, cultural, or legal challenges you face?
    1. Economic?
    2. Technological?
    3. Environmental?
    4. Cultural?
    5. Legal?
  2. Has gentrification into your neighborhood impacted your business? If so, how?

Work since 2020

  1. What anxieties did you have about working at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
  2. How has COVID impacted the workforce at your shop?
    1. What anxieties did your employees (fellow employees) have about going back?
  3. What measures, if any, does your store take in the battle against COVID-19?
  4. How has COVID financially impacted your business? 
  5. Has the government stepped in to offer support?  
  6. Has the relationship between workers and businesses been altered due to government support for workers and the unemployed?
  7. Have the protests for Black Lives that swept the city after the murder of George Floyd impacted your business? If so, how?
    1. How about other protest movements?
  8. How have you overcome the challenges of the past two years?

Finishing Up

  1. Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t?
  2. Are you still comfortable donating this oral history to a public collection?
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