Heritage, Volume 11, Number 1, Winter 1993 Page: 11
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Successful Oral Histories
6. Listen: Sounds both simple and obvious,
but it is harder than it seems if you
let yourself get distracted by thinking
about your equipment, your next questions,
and the details you missed in the
answer to your last question. Ask for
clarification when necessary. Learn when
to be silent.
7. Interview Beyond Your Own
Project: You are producing a resource, an
historical document valuable enough to be
preserved. Try not to guide the conversation
too tightly. After all, the needs of
future researchers are unlimited, and tape
8. Record an Introduction: Name
yourself and your interviewee, and give the
around the back side and crawl through an
opening and I look up and it almost startles
me. There is a Bessemer, twin-cylinder,
twin-flywheel, diesel engine. And this thing,
the flywheels-real flywheels-are six feet
tall.... And every time I went to a different
section of the gin, it looked eerie because it
looked like they were going to come back
and run that day.
Hutchinson followed up his "find" with
calls to the Smithsonian Institution and
the Texas Historical Commission, whose
experts confirmed the historical significance
and uniqueness of the gin. Bolstered
by their encouragement, he helped found
Operation Restoration. The subsequent
widespread community support and the
successes of the preservation group
strengthened his philosophy of a rural preservation
When you start to look at preservation
theory, right now in America, we have the
zoo theory of preservation, as I call it. That
means you put [buildings] behind cages.
You go out in the wild, you capture something,
you bring it back, the veterinarian
cares for it, people come and see it in the zoo
area that is designated. It lacks the context
and well-meaning. You can have animals
that are almost extinct that will die because
they're not in native habitat. The big move
in the zoo movement right now is what?
Safaris. Preservation has got to become
that. We have got to get the rural areas out
of the zoo theory and get them into safaris
and start to do linkages.
date and location of the interview right
on the tape.
9. Process the Interview: Do not
wait. Start processing as soon as you
finish each session. Organize those paper
trails, transcribe if you can, and
index the interview.
10. Evaluate, Preserve, Utilize: Your
interviews are most valuable if they
last, if other researchers know about
them, and if they are used to interpret
This information was contributed by Deb
Hoskins, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow
with the Baylor University Institute for
Oral History in Waco.
The concentric circles of the Burton
preservation project have spread to Waco.
As a result of the oral history program,
Baylor University has renewed historic
ties to Washington County, where the
school was founded almost a century and a
half ago. The Institute for Oral History has
added significantly to developing archival
collections in historic preservation,
family life, community history, and regional
The remembrances of the Burton
people will serve as an invaluable resource
for countless future generations of researchers,
and the Washington County
work will be a model for the development
of similar projects across the state.
Through such work, oral history will continue
to be one of the lasting monuments
for those seeking the legacy of King Cotton
Dan K. Utley is an oral historian and editor
with the Baylor University Institute for Oral
History. A member of the Texas Oral
History Association Board of Directors, he
also serves on the National Register Board of
Review for Texas.
Local efforts to preserve the historic gin have led to the formation of a non-profit group called Operation
Restoration. The Burton Farmers Gin is now open to the public for tours.
HERITAGE * WINTER 1993 11
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 11, Number 1, Winter 1993, periodical, Winter 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45415/m1/11/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.