Oral History Interview
Shalom Y’all: The Jewish Experience in the American South
Professor Marcie Cohen Ferris
Nancy Schwartz Sternoff, Charlotte, NC/NY
Conduct an oral history interview with a Jewish Southerner and summarize your
interview and experience in a two-page typed essay. You should also be prepared to
briefly “introduce” your informant to our seminar in a classroom discussion. Typically,
your interview should last about two hours, although you may want to schedule a follow-
up interview session with your interviewee if you are not able to complete the interview
in one visit. In your essay, introduce your informant and describe their life and
significant experiences in the Jewish South. What matters most to them? What surprised
you? What factors shaped their southern-ness and their Jewishness?
Who should you interview?
Choose a person who will enlighten and broaden your understanding of the southern
Jewish experience. This could be an older Jewish adult living in a retirement community
in Chapel Hill who was born and raised in a North Carolina community or elsewhere in
the South and can speak of their experience. It could also be a Jewish person, possibly an
alum, who is a recent transplant to our community and has moved to Chapel Hill “from
away” to start a new life, or possibly to retire. It could be a Jewish professor or
administrator at UNC who has witnessed the evolution of Jewish life in the university
community over several decades. It could be a leader in the Jewish community of the
Triangle, such as a rabbi, director of the Chapel Hill-Durham Jewish Federation, a
member of a local synagogue women’s organization, etc.
Resources: The Jewish Heritage Foundation of North
is organizing” “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina,” a multimedia project which
will include a national broadcast quality documentary film, an educational video and
teaching guide for the state’s 1.5 million public school students; a museum exhibition
which will travel to all of the state’s major metropolitan areas; and an engaging, well-
researched book with full-color illustration. Dr. Leonard Rogoff is the historian for this
project. He may have suggestions for oral history interviewees who will be included in
the Down Home project. Prof. Ferris can provide his contact information.
Other resources: look at the websites for the Institute for Southern Jewish Life in
Jackson, Mississippi, the Jewish Women’s Archive in Brookline, Massachusetts, UNC’s
Southern Oral History Program, and the oral history program of the Southern Foodways
Alliance at the University of Mississippi for excellent examples of best practices in oral
Interview questions and release forms:
There is a link on this assignment web page to an oral history questionnaire developed by
Dr. Leonard Rogoff. You can modify this document to best suit your interview.
Sample release forms are available on the website of UNC’s Southern Oral History
Program. You will need to ask your oral history interviewee to sign a release form
giving you permission to use their interview solely for research purposes in our class.
Preparing for your interview:
Once you know who you plan to interview, do some research. Look into the era and
birthplace of your informant so that your questions are pertinent and sensitive. Be aware
of the person’s interests, occupation, etc. Don’t walk into an interview “cold,” unaware of
the basic framework of your informant’s life.
Although you can conduct an interview with pen and paper by taking good notes, it is
best if you record your interview. You can use a digital recorder, a tape recorder, or any
recording device that works for you. Practice using your recorder before the interview
and make sure everything is in working order before the interview begins. Bring a power
cord and extra batteries. Test the equipment and make sure it is working with a sound
test once your interview has begun. Begin your interview, once the recorder is running,
by stating your name, date, time, location, and name of your interviewee. State the
closing time at the end of the interview. Take good notes even if you are recording the
interview. Bring along a camera and take a couple of pictures of your interviewee, of
course, with their permission.
Transcribe your interview (a typed version of your interview) and turn this in with your
two page summary.
Please write a formal thank you to your interviewee and send them a copy of the
transcript of the interview. Allow them to make corrections, if needed.