Reflections on an Interview with a Zookeeper

The apprehensions I had prior to conducting the interview failed to have alleviated by the time Monday arrived and on Tuesday I still didn’t feel entirely positive about the experience. I really felt I had prepared for the interview. I know the subject well and am familiar with the secondary literature but I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for something you’re about to embark on for the first time. The interview itself got off to a little bit of a bumpy start. I think it would have been helpful to have perhaps met the interviewee before the interview itself, just to break the ice and get to know each other a little. At the beginning it felt a little awkward but once we got going and settled into a rhythm, that soon subsided. The only other thing was, I had complied with a request to send a list of themes and at the beginning I felt a bit like the answers had been rehearsed. I had avoided sending specific questions for this reason so was a little thrown when my interviewee offered up large chunks of narrative and answered a number of the questions I planned to ask later, all in one go. But that’s the thing isn’t it, to be a good interviewer you need to be prepared for that to happen, to be flexible and to deviate, and while I thought I was prepared for that, it took me a while to find my feet and relax into it. I’d say after about the first 15-20 minutes things were more at pace and the rest of the interview developed more naturally. Questions arose as we went on which I asked and I was always met with a response. You could tell the interviewee was passionate, proud and well informed about zoo keeping and that made for a fascinating interview.

There are some rookies mistakes on the recording. I thought I had communicated by nodding and miming, but I didn’t do that all the time. Especially at the beginning I had this really annoying habit of responding or repeating phrases – what that was about I don’t know. I can also be heard at one point to say “I don’t know what to ask you now” – doh! Aside from that and a few other things, I actually really enjoyed it and learnt an awful lot. There were some really interesting anecdotes and I learnt new information about the profession, especially the interviewees role in some significant developments. I soon realised that I was in the presence of someone who has been very influential in the zoo keeping community. His pride at that came across but so did modesty – it was interesting to see that develop.

I walked away from the interview feeling that it could have gone better, but on reflection and having listened to it back, I’m quite pleased with how it went. All the questions I had intended to ask were answered, as were many more and I achieve my intention of discovering why the interviewee followed this career path, how he got to where he is today and where he thinks the future of zoos is headed. I really enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about interviewing technique as well as the theme itself. In fact I have had another reply and am keen to follow up this lead as well.

Reflections on My Interview – Dorothy finds her voice

On Thursday and Friday I had the great privilege of interviewing Dorothy, an 82 year old former land girl. After a faltering start – she was quite nervous speaking quietly and hesitantly – the interview soon began to flow.   I had half an eye on my questions but I didn’t use them very much at all, instead allowing Dorothy to direct the interview as her confidence grew.  Metaphorically and quite literally (you can hear on the recording) she begins to find her voice.

Having played the recording back I realise I should have done more to ameliorate the effects of traffic (her flat is very close to a road) and I think the hiss is the warden alarm she has in her OAP block over which I had no control.

During the interview Dorothy found dates difficult to recall so many events were framed i.e. ‘we moved house the day war broke out’.  Possibly she did, possibly she didn’t but this is how she remembers it. I tried to frame my questions to help her recall.

There were many instances of her recalling physical memories, particularly about her time working in a mill in Yorkshire (30+ years so deeply ingrained) but also during the time she was in the land army.  During the interview she re-enacted these actions without prompting; demonstrating how she collected the bobbins from a rapidly moving spinning machine and then picking and chopping sugar beets in the fields of Suffolk as a land girl. This wasn’t for my benefit; it was to take her back to those moments.

I found her experiences fascinating, sometimes funny and frequently moving.  Dorothy  replaced one job involving monotonous, tiring work in a mill with a similar one on a farm in Suffolk but it was worth it for the opportunity it provided for a 17 year old to at last gain some personal freedom and to be in the countryside.  As the eldest girl of six children she was expected to look after her younger siblings, cook, clean and do laundry as well as working at the mill.  So the first taste she had of a social life was as a land girl.  Now she had the freedom to ride a bike, visit the cinema, go to dances and to get walked home by a boy.

Sadly, after a few months and following a concerted effort by Dorothy’s mother and her older brother, she was forced to return to Yorkshire to her previous life.  They needed her to help with the family and to contribute to the family coffers.  Being in the land army also had connotations of sexual promiscuity and this was certainly levelled at Dorothy by her brother.

Dorothy went on to get married and to have a family of her own with all the highs and lows that brings including divorce, however I got a real sense during our interview that those months as a land girl  were amongst the happiest times of her life and, had she been allowed to stay for longer, life may have turned out differently.


How to burn audio files to DVD

Please use a good quality (i.e. branded) blank DVD rather than CD to burn to; DVDs have a larger storeage capacity. In Windows see or There are other disc burning programmes available.

Important: Please burn the discs as DATA discs and not audio discs. We want to be able to access the files.

Windows 7 instructions for mp3 to CD – follow these instructions for wav to DVD:

Apple Mac

Here are some instructions for burning on IOS 10 Macs:

I don’t use Macs so you might want to seek out a more trusted source such as one of the priests that work in the Church of Apple Stores. Or you might look at Apple’s help file here:

Interview Day is Almost Here

I’m growing increasingly anxious about conducting my first ever Oral History interview. In fact, my feelings are best described as apprehension and fear. There is so much to prepare, consider and remember.

I’m concerned that language might be a problem. My interviewee has warned me that his grasp of English is basic and that he might have some trouble communicating with me. It’s something that is constantly in the back of mind as I prepare my questions. I have been doing some reading about the importance of language to identity and I’m hoping the barrier won’t mark me out as too much of an ‘outsider’. I’m also aware that I am being invited into someone’s home, someone who lives by different cultural norms, and I need to respect those throughout. I do not want to cause offense unwittingly.

From a practical point of view, I’m worried about not being able to use the equipment properly and messing up the recording. I’m not going to dwell on that point. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Hopes & concerns- Maria Karpasitou

I have already conducted my interview and I’d like to think it went rather well, definitely better than I expected. Going into this interview I had a number of hopes and concerns.
My main hope for the interview was to gain insight into the life of a Cypriot immigrant moving to the UK, the way of life, experiences, difficulties and memories. I already have somewhat of a background knowledge regarding the subject but I was really looking forward to hearing the experiences and memories of an individual instead of just reading the general facts and information. Since I was interviewing a person who has always been part of the community in one way or another since he had moved to the UK I thought it would be great to ask him about the community then and now, the differences, the growth, the factors, the difficulties it faced as a whole.
My concerns really bothered me. My main concern was regarding my questions; where they the right ones to ask? Are they too general? Are the covering the topic sufficiently? I was worried that I may miss interesting opportunities to probe further and expand the subject. I have done background reading on the subject so I was hoping that something the interviewee would say would spark a question in my head. That was closely related to my lack of confidence as an interviewer, and my lack of confidence in using the equipment correctly. I had conducted an interview before for my undergrad but it was nowhere near as ‘professional’ or ‘official’ as this and it was more informal. I was worried my nerves would clearly show and affect my train of thought.
In conclusion, most of my concerns were eased on the day of the interview (I was glad I got all the worrying done leading up to it) granted I was still nervous but once I had the initial chat with the interviewee prior to pressing the record button, I felt more comfortable and at ease. I am still not greatly confident in my interviewing skills nor my questions but I enjoyed the experience and in my opinion this was helped by the interviewee, he was helpful, friendly and understanding and he offered plenty of information for me to go on while also still allowing me to ask my questions. I did find out a great deal about the Cypriots and the community in London. Overall, I enjoyed the interview, the process and admittedly the sense of relief once it had finished!

Interview concerns- Megan O’Shaughnessy

Initially when deciding whom I wanted to interview, it was quite clear. I wanted an insight into the day-to-day professional life of a curator working for the Historic Royal Palaces. When I approached HRP with an email, I was promised that it would be circulated and that a curator would bite. Well… the unfortunate part about that is that I had no bites. However, I did have a bite but from another line. Charlotte, a part time Public History student, interns at the HRP, more specifically Hampton Court Palaces (my dream and the reason I’m here), and she told me straight up that HRP is quite exclusive. When you’re in, you’re in but until then, good luck trying to get to the core of the curators. I was a little bit disappointed but not really surprised. I figured it wouldn’t be as simple as sending an email but the fact that I had Charlotte as an insider meant that she would be a perfect person to interview. She knows a lot of the ins and outs, which is what I wanted from this interview in the first place.

 My first major concern is obviously technical. I want to be sure that I’m working the equipment correctly. My second concern is also technical because I am hopefully going to be interviewing Charlotte at Hampton Court Palace. If that is the case, I need to be sure that there is no outside noise that will interrupt the feed from the microphone.  My third major concern is that my questions won’t be enough. I want a quite candid interview that shows Charlotte from a pre-professional point of view. I want her to be able to talk endlessly about her reasoning behind picking the Public History program and how it will help her future career. I also want her to be able to speak candidly about her experience working for the HRP and all the insider knowledge that comes with that.

 My final and most intense concern is that I won’t sound professional. In theory, it seems easy enough to interview someone. However, the more I think about it, the more nervous I become. I hope that I am able to control my nerves and make Charlotte comfortable enough to speak honestly. While I honestly believe that this interview won’t be archived or used in any capacity, it will be a very telling interview for my own personal knowledge. As long as the interview flows and I can handle myself as a professional, I am hoping that my concerns will fade away.

Hopes and concerns of interviewing an ex- police officer

I am excited that my interviewee has had a long career in the police force (spanning more than three decades) giving the longevity of experience. I am hoping to discover how a police officer makes sense of their identity through day to day roles; experience of publicised events; and images in media and public opinion.  I hope to discover a personal experience of such a career and in doing so will base questions around these themes:

Early life, schooling and aspirations

Early career, becoming an officer and initial experiences

Roles and responsibilities

Policing 1980s Britain

Reflection and opinion of images surrounding police

Reflection and opinion regarding changes in policing over time

My interviewee is a colleague of mine and so there should be some degree of comfort in which we can both, hopefully, talk at ease. He is often telling anecdotes derived from his past career in the police force and I am excited to gain more detail and understanding into these. However, I am also concerned that knowing him personally (although not particularly well) I may find it difficult to probe for challenging/controversial or personal insights. That said, he seems more than comfortable, and dare I say enthused, to talk about his experiences. He is a humorous and opinionated man so I should at least find the experience fun and interesting.

I have a few concerns. I am anxious that I will miss suitable opportunities to probe for further detail and understanding, or to clarify unclear dialogue. Whilst I will plan for more specific, as well as ‘open’ questions, I want the conversation to naturally follow the lead of the interviewee’s responses. I am also rather nervous of constantly seeking clarification/ understanding, although I am trying to dispel this with thorough secondary reading around the police.

Whilst I am looking for a career focus rather than a life history, I am still concerned there may be more to cover than I will allow time for.

Finally, I am apprehensive that my nerves will show during the interview and this may affect my ‘authority as interviewer’. Whilst I want the interview to be a shared experience and jointly lead by question and response, I require my questions to make the principle framework of the interview. Given that the interviewee has built a career on interviewing and analysing others, I feel this will be an interesting experience for both of us!

Hopes and Concerns – Johanna F.

I have a few concerns about the interview. Of course, I‘m afraid I can‘t handle the recording equipment, that I will forget to push the record button or that something will be wrong with the sound levels. On the other hand, I worry that I won‘t ask the right questions, that those questions stir up very unpleasant memories of my interviewee and that he will feel uncomfortable or even depressed after the interview.

I really do hope to get an personal insight of what it was like to be a child during the Second World War in Austria. I‘m looking forward to talking to my interview partner about this time and I‘m also – somehow – looking forward to being „the interviewer“ with the dictaphone. I‘m used to finding the answers to my questions in books; it‘s a relief to talk to people about their experiences for a change!

Hopes and Concerns, Chelsey Cain

Planning my interview has proven to be increasingly stressful and prompted more concerns that I expected originally.  So far the largest difficulty I had had to overcome has been finding an interviewee.  Because I recently moved to the UK from the United States, I have virtually no relationships with any adults in the area. Luckily, I have received a very promising lead from Dr. Matthew Smith at the Egham Museum and have a number of back-up options should that fall through.

My main concern is that my questions and the topics which I wish to explore may be seen as too probing or personal.  The woman I will likely interview was a child during WWII and her mother worked at a local ammunitions factory; I am interested in discussing gender during and after the war but I don’t want to step on any toes in doing so.  Also, I am interested in expressions of sexuality but do not know how to approach that topic in a delicate way.  I am hoping to gain more insight into this issue through the readings.

My second concern is related to my own abilities as an interviewer.  In an undergraduate class, I was assigned an oral life history as a final project.  We were encouraged to interview members of our own family (simply for ease of access).  I found myself unwilling to ask probing questions and struggled to stick with a definite them.  Hopefully, however, this can be attributed to a lack of training and preparation and also my relationship with the interviewee (my grandmother).

In terms of hopes for my interview, I would like to gain a greater insight into England during the Second World War.  Most of my knowledge on the topic is US centric so I am excited to see the topic in a new context.  I also hope that my interview will make the experience of war, especially one on such a large scale, seem more human to me instead of historical and academic; I hope that I am able to illustrate the importance of her experience, her story, and her voice.

On a much more personal level, I hope that this interview gives me a deeper connection with Egham and England in general.  Though a full-time student here, I still feel transient, like a perpetual tourist, and I trust that learning more about this community will change that.

Interview Hopes and Concerns- Gillian Gryz

Preparing for my interview is causing me more stress then I had anticipated.  The woman I am interviewing seems very nice and very willing to talk about her life, which has put me more at ease.

My main concerns are technical things, like what if I don’t use the equipment correctly?  I know that if I’m careful and focused this won’t actually be an issue.  I am also concerned about my questions- will I have enough? Too many? What if I ask something that upsets her on accident?  Or, what if, after the interview, I realize I haven’t asked what I wanted to?  I think all of these concerns are normal pre-interview concerns.  I’m very prone to thinking about the worst-case scenario before I do something significant.  As long as I dedicate enough of my time and energy into making sure I cover each area I’m worried about before the interview, I should have little to no issue when the day comes to conduct this interview.

My hopes are that I am able to let this nice woman say what is on her mind.  When I first met her, she told me she had been the subject in an oral history interview once before a few years ago.  She said the interviewer seemed to know what kinds of things she wanted to get out of her subject.  That is something I want to stay away from.  I want to ask questions about things I want to learn more about, of course, but above all, I want to know what was important to HER.  The woman I am interviewing also said she thinks her views have changed on some topics since her last interview, and she would be interested to see if that shows in the interview she will have with me.  The Egham Museum has a transcript of the last interview she did and I was thinking of taking a look at it so I know maybe what kinds of questions to stay away from, or some topics I would like to hear more about.

Overall, I just hope to gain some insight on the inner-workings of the Holloway Sanatorium.  The woman I am interviewing worked there at a pivotal time, just as it became public.  She will have worked with people who worked there for many years before, and can perhaps give insight to what she heard the Sanatorium was like as a private institution.  I want to learn what it was like being a woman in the workplace in the 1950s.  I want to hear what working with the patients was like and how it made her feel.  I want her to come away feeling like she was able to speak freely and has made a contribution to history.