Exploratory Oral History Interviews of Family Members

  • William Sims BainbridgeEmail author
Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


Since ancient days, question and answer sessions have been a standard way to assemble and interpret the meanings of events and social relationships. In the middle of the twentieth century social scientists sought to formalize this tradition as scientific interviewing, but quickly found themselves debating how rigorous and pre-planned the set of questions should be, as well as the extent to which the interviewer should adjust the methodology in response to the things said by the person being interviewed. In the abstract, these debates concerned the extent to which human beings could be accurately described in terms of a few well-formed theories, hypotheses and concepts. For a while, Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis dominated family-related interviews, but eventually Carl Rogers and many colleagues promoted a more person-centered approach that did not seek to impose any particular ideology. A pair of interviews done with now-deceased prominent sociologists, George Homans and David Riesman, document the failure of Harvard University’s Social Relations movement to achieve a consensus through some unified theory. Therefore, decades later, family historians must select their interview methods in terms of their own goals and prior experience, but the likely starting point is open-ended interviewing, ideally conducted in multiple sessions, with constant comparison across the inputs from different family members. A major online questionnaire study illustrates how to start such a dialogue, through the examples of two open-ended questions, the first abstract, and the second concrete: (1) What is the future of families in our society? (2) How did you personally experience a residential move?


Riesman Family History Interview Altruistic Appeals Fixed-choice Items Alternative Family Structures 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent historianChantillyUSA

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