Oral History Project - Help Us Make History 

We are asking teachers, students, and families to partake in our Help Us Make History initiative by conducting their own oral history interviews.

What is an oral history?  

An oral history is usually a recording of a life story, experience, or narrative, shared between an interviewer, the person asking the questions and guiding the interview, and the interviewee, the person answering the questions and telling their story. Historians use oral histories as a primary source to better understand the past. 

What is a primary source?

A primary source can be many different things, such as a journal, letter, diary, or artifact, so long as it is from the time period of study. By conducting an oral history of someone in your life, you are helping to create a primary source for future historians, to help them better understand and make sense of our lives during COVID-19. 

These are the stories you can help us collect!

What has life been like for your friends and family while social distancing during COVID-19? Do you know a frontline worker, whether a nurse, doctor, grocery store worker, restaurant staff, courier, teacher, paramedic, who is willing to share their experiences?  Are you living with or know an older relative who experienced what life was like during the Great Depression or Second World War? How does the current COVID-19 crisis compare to what they faced in the 1930s and 1940s? 

Tips for doing oral history

  • Try to conduct the interview in a quiet room or space, to avoid background noise.
  • Practice recording yourself to see how close you or your interviewee needs to be from your recording device.
  • An oral history is very flexible! If your interview veers from your line of questions, that’s okay! Allow the person you are interviewing to tell the story that is important to them. Sometimes tangents can offer the most interesting stories!
  • Practice active listening. When showing your interviewee you are listening, try to nod rather than speak. Your recorder likes to pick up your verbal responses, so a nod is a good way to show your narrator that you are engaged and listening. 
  • Be an empathetic listener.  Retelling distressing experiences can be a difficult experience. It is okay to pause the interview, or allow for silences in the conversation. 
  • Don’t hesitate to ask a follow up question! Did your interviewee mention something you would like to know more about? It is great to ask questions that come to mind and are not on your list!  Remember, your written questions are just a guideline for the interview!

Additional challenge

Our lives during COVID-19 are constantly changing and evolving. To document these on-going changes, we challenge you to go one step further, and conduct a series of oral histories with your interviewee. After your first interview, re-interview your person in a few months time, to see how their lives have continued to evolve over this changing period.  

What equipment should I use to conduct the oral history interview?

The interview can be recorded using a cell phone or digital recorder as a video or audio recording. Recorded Skype or Zoom interviews are also acceptable. Audio recordings can be submitted as MP3 or WAV files, and video recordings can be MP4 or MOV files. 

How do I submit my oral history projects and interviews?

Completed interviews donated to the Region of Waterloo Museums will become part of our archival collection and will be used to document the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For all interviews donated to the Region of Waterloo Museums, participants will be required to sign and complete the following consent form:

Oral History Project Consent Form

Teachers can send all submissions and signed consent forms digitally by email, to helpusmakehistory@regionofwaterloo.ca OR compiled onto a USB drive and mailed to Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum, 10 Huron Road, Kitchener, Ontario, N2P 2R7.

Guideline list of questions

This is a guideline list of questions you can use to conduct your oral histories!  There is extra space at the end to write some questions of your own, depending on your interviewee and what specific questions you would like to ask. Remember, these questions are just a guideline!

Oral History Project Guideline List of Questions

Suggestions for teachers

Use this oral history project toward your language, social studies, and history lessons. Compare and contrast past historical events to the current COVID-19 crisis. Students can reflect and consider key framing questions, while producing and analysing oral and media texts.  

Recommended subjects for Elementary Grades 5 to 8

  • Social Studies Grades 5 to 6
  • History Grade 7 to 8   
  • Language Grades 5 to 8

Recommended courses for Secondary Grades 

  • Grade 10 - Canadian History Since World War I CHI2D and CHI2P
  • Grade 11 - Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology HSP3U and HSP3C
  • Grade 12 - Challenge and Change in Society HSB4U
  • Grade 12-  Canada - History, Identity, and Culture CHI4U

For more detailed information about the Oral History Project, please contact:

Katie Anderson, Education Coordinator, at KaAnderson@regionofwaterloo.ca or 519-575-4491 ext. 3247.

Michael Van Huisseling, Education Coordinator, at MVanHuisseling@regionofwaterloo.ca or 519-748-1914 ext. 3269.

For more information about the submission process, please contact:

Stacy McLennan, Collections Curator and Registrar, at SMcLennan@regionofwaterloo.ca or 519-748-1914 ext. 3268.