When Kristin wrote recently about the troubles of working with living donors, I could not help but relate her woes to my own summertime job experience. This summer I have worked as the Oral History Intern at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City where I have had the privilege of engaging a whole other type of living donor: the oral history interviewee.
In October, the Tenement Museum will debut a new exhibit entitled Shop Life. This basement exhibit explores the history of business culture at the landmarked 97 Orchard Street tenement. One of my goals is to strengthen the Museum’s oral history collection with information about other neighborhood shops and storefronts, past and present. These interviews might someday serve as the foundations for a Shop Life neighborhood walking tour to accompany the new tenement exhibit.
Lower East Side tenements
To collect oral histories, I rely on the theory and methodology taught in our graduate course Oral History at Loyola University Chicago. We delved into the intricacies of interview technique, transcription methodology, and the ethical implications of exploiting interview sources for our own academic and professional gains. Now that I am in the field doing this work for myself, I realize one topic, preceding all the rest, remained largely unaddressed: How do you even get someone to sit down with you for an interview?