Taking Flight in Oral History - Lessons Learned from Conducting the Flying Voices Oral History Project

Taking Flight in Oral History - Lessons Learned from Conducting the Flying Voices Oral History Project

Abra Schnur, MLS Candidate, Project Director of the Flying Voices Oral History Project.


The Flying Voices Oral History Project: In-flight and Ground Experiences of Braniff International Airways captures experiences and perspectives from former employees of the North Texas-based airline. Braniff shaped the aviation industry of the 1960s. It was the first major U.S. airline to demilitarize its uniforms and planes with the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign, and also the first to file for bankruptcy after deregulation. The purpose of Flying Voices is to create a resource for future generations and scholars. Questions of economic and cultural impact, and how the company shaped the lives of its employees, drove the direction of the project.

I began the oral history project after three educational milestones: I took a course that focused on oral history theory and methodology, I completed an internship auditing transcripts for an archives, and I participated in Baylor University’s Institute of Oral History’sGetting Started with Oral History” e-workshop, which walked me through developing and processing a collection. After completing this training I felt poised to begin my own project.  

I designed Flying Voices as a community-based project. I began reaching out to members of the community by introducing myself on social media and hosting information sessions about the project. I met with each interviewee beforehand to discuss the interview process and the donor agreement forms. I formed a list of general questions that I used to guide the interviews. While the pre-interview and interview processes went as expected, in hindsight there were several things I wish I had done differently over the course of the project. Here are some lessons learned:

  •  Fund and publicize your project: Before implementing the project I should have sought out a basic webinar on grant writing. I also envisioned being able to garner community support to cover the bulk of transcription and transportation costs, but ultimately had limited success with this approach. Additionally, I should have looked into how to successfully market such a project.  
  • Be realistic about resources: Although the value of transcription is still debated in the field, it is undeniably beneficial to many users. I had the interviews machine-transcribed for a fraction of the cost of a reputable transcription service, and the imperfect results are representative of that approach. I don’t know how much time I saved as I now have to go through each interview and correct many mistakes. This process stymied the project.
  • Follow through: If you state you are going to do something in your consent or intent form, follow through. While I have tried to keep interviewees and the community informed of the project’s progress, I fear the interviewees have lost trust in me, as they have not yet received transcription copies to edit and approve.  
  • Focus on access: Oral histories should ideally be searchable and accessible through detailed concept-based indexing and user-friendly applications such as OHMS. It was my intention to transfer this collection to an archival repository, and indeed the collection has now been transferred to an oral history collection at a university archives. I imagined the repository would have a grand vision for the collection. Now, as a graduate student about to complete my MLS with an archival management focus, my vision is a little more realistic. While conducting the interviews I relied too heavily on the research and preservation aspect and didn’t focus on the benefits of utilizing the collection in the present. Interactivity should be the present and future of oral history in archives. 

I have gained invaluable experience as an oral history practitioner through my work on Flying Voices. By reading about my experience, I hope that others can better understand the realities of conducting and processing an oral history project.