The Tangles of Oral History

T: On the—you know, pain scale—is it one to ten?

D: Yeah

T: What level of pain do you need to experience before you go to the hospital?

D: 9; I don’t like to be inconvenienced; if I can fight through it then I will.

That was my best question when we were paired up in class a few weeks ago to conduct micro-interviews as part of our lesson on oral history. It was also the one question I ad-libbed.

We were supposed to ask about public health issues and I honestly blanked when I composed my five questions. I couldn’t think about what kinds of questions would be universal enough to get a response from each informant yet narrow enough to shed some light on the topic at hand. I didn’t know how personal to go. I tried to go vague (“What do you see, hear, and feel in a hospital? What are your associations with hospitals?”) or look to the past (“What do you remember about getting sick in your childhood? What was that experience like?”) to get around asking a friend and classmate about his health. It sort of worked. But I think I learned most about Derek from my spontaneous question about his tolerance of pain.

Continue reading “The Tangles of Oral History”