Mar. 25, 2007

A Funtional Analysis for Oral History

Although she often claims that her thoughts are a disorganized, unpublished mess, Diana Dicklich actually is rather consistent at coming up with brilliant insights during class. When we were discussing the importance of inclusively when planning and presenting an exhibit, Diana mentioned the idea of creating a functional analysis for collecting oral histories. After learning more about oral history this weekend, Kelly and Molly might inform me on Monday that it is very normal to come up with a broad plan before conducting an interview for historical purposes; nevertheless, because I think this is a neat idea and because by butchering her original idea I might spur Diana into blogging action, I would still like to explore this idea of a functional analysis for oral history.

Archivists, who all seem to be inundated with acquisitions that need to be appraised, arranged, and described, carry out functional analyses to determine what stays in the archive and what goes in the circular file. To be very brief, an archivist performs a functional analysis by understanding what activities are most important to a creator’s job; the archivist then keeps only the documents that are the result of these activities.

The idea of carrying out a functional analysis with oral interviews is an interesting one because it assumes that the interview has specific uses beyond what the interviewer is looking for. When I was interviewing 3M researchers as a part of my contribution to the Invention to Innovation exhibit, I was interested specifically in how particular inventions were conceptualized, constructed, and used; though the interviews do contain a good deal of information about the history of the inventions in which I was interested, the interview might be of little use to an engineer or a chemist interest in the same invention. Likewise, a person interested in the interviewees’ respective roles at 3M might find the interview wanting as well. A functional analysis of either the interviewee or subject of discussion might have been an effective way to shape a more useful primary source of information. Although a system of macro-appraisal for oral history might not answer all the questions future historians might ask, such an approach could provide a greater level of consistency in terms of what sorts of information were preserved.