The “Veterans History Project” at the Library of Congress, and Great Questions to ask in a Veteran Interview

Today I found out about a great project at the Library of Congress called the “Veterans History Project.”  The Project began in 2000.  The goal of the project is collect information from U.S. wartime veterans and certain civilians involved in the war effort (further details about the wars of interest and types of civilian positions are here).  The types of material the program collects are:

  • video or audio interviews at least 30 minutes long,
  • memoirs or journals with at least 20 pages, or
  • letters or photos (at least 10).

Anyone can submit the materials.  In fact, anyone interested is encouraged to submit materials, because the project depends on volunteers like us to send in materials.

This site has some great questions to use in a veteran interview:

  • One set of interview questions for veterans are here
  • A second, only partially overlapping set of questions is found in the field kit packet here (see the fourth image, page 2)
  • Interview questions for civilians during wartime are here

The website describes the steps to participate in the Veterans History Project:

  1. Print and read the field kit, which includes a number of required forms.  The field kit points to a video about the project here.  In this video, filmmaker Ken Burns gives some interview and recording tips.
  2. Get ready for the interview (if you are indeed interviewing rather than just sending in a memoir, photos, or the like).  A lot of the tips here are helpful for any interview.
  3. Interview the participant.  Again, many of these tips are helpful for any interview.
  4. Send in the materials.

Desired media formats for recordings and images are described here and in the video.

I have written before with general tips for conducting an interview.  I recommend that you give your interview subject a list of your proposed interview questions beforehand.  Give them time to think about their responses.  Then before the interview, ask them about the question list, if there are questions they don’t think should be included and if there are some they really want to cover.  And during the interview, feel free to go a little off script; it is good to say, “Tell me more,” or let a response lead you to ask a question you hadn’t planned.  But do try to eventually return to the most essential questions you want to cover.

And do remember that if a veteran can no longer be interviewed, photos and memoirs (meeting the minimum quantities) are welcomed by the program also.  Photos and memoirs are accepted along with an interview as well.

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