University Libraries

Wilson Library

April 17, 2014
7:00am - Midnight

Interviews

Many students want to conduct interviews as part of their History Day research.
Conducting interviews as part of your History Day research can be a fun and valuable way to learn more about your topic. You may choose to do an interview with someone who was a participant in your topic, making your own primary source. You may also choose to interview an "expert" on your topic. They may be able to make observations about your topic that are not clear from your primary sources.

Do I need an interview?

No, interviews are not mandatory for a good History Day project. However, if you have the chance to interview someone who has had first-hand experience with your topic, they might give you valuable information.

Who should I interview?

Don't assume that only a college professor is a true "expert." Many people can be great sources for a History Day interview. Some of the best are people with first-hand knowledge of the person or event you are studying. Are you researching the 1970 Minneapolis teachers' strike? Think about interviewing someone you know who was a student or teacher in Minneapolis during that time. Studying New Jersey v. T.L.O.? Maybe you could interview school administrators to learn about how the Supreme Court's ruling affected your school's policy about searching students.

Other people become experts on a certain topic because they have spent a long time studying it. Teachers, museum staff, writers, and your teachers can all be good sources.

I'd like to interview a professor at the University of Minnesota. How do I do that?

The professors at the University receive a huge number of requests every year. They are happy to help History Day students, but often they receive so many requests that agreeing to all interviews would interfere with their jobs. Sometimes students request topics for which there is no expert at the University. A specialist in European women's history may not necessarily be an expert in Mary Wollstonecraft. She or he might actually study medieval history.

To check about the possibility of interviewing a faculty member, contact the History Day Hotline via email or phone at 612-625-6416. Please do not contact faculty directly. The Hotline staff can find the best expert for you and they know which professors are currently at the University. (Sometimes the department's website is not up-to-date).

The Hotline staff will make sure you are completely prepared and that an interview is really what you need. Sometimes, students have worked with the staff at the U and found that what they needed were actually additional primary sources.

To schedule a interview, you'll have to be flexible about the time and means. Professors are very busy people and travel frequently. A phone or Skype interview may be much easier to schedule than a face-to-face meeting.

How do I prepare for an interview?

An interview should help you fill in small gaps in your project and give you the chance to ask an expert detailed questions. They are not a chance to have someone else explain your entire project to you. If you don't understand what your sources are saying, ask for help from a teacher, librarian, History Day mentor or staff, or the History Day hotline.

To prepare for an interview, first make sure you've read lots of secondary sources so that you have an overview of your topic. Do you understand what happened, the background, and the effects? Second, have looked through some primary sources. You might be able to discuss these with the person you interview.

Finally, write down a list of questions to ask your interviewee. This will give the person an idea of what you want to ask so they can be prepared. It will also help you if you get nervous! A list of 8-10 questions should be enough. Email the History Day hotline if you get stuck while writing your list.

Before the day of the interview, test your equipment. Does your voice recorder or camera have batteries and an empty memory card? Are you comfortable working your equipment? Do you have a good Internet connection that is fast enough for Skype? No matter how you're recording the interview, you'll also want a paper and pencil to take notes during the interview. This will help you in case your equipment malfunctions. It will also help you later when you're looking for specific parts of the interview when your interviewee said something particularly useful.