At its core The HistoryMakers is committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. Here is how we do it.

What We Do

Interview Process
1. Scheduling

We travel the country to conduct video oral history interviews. The first step in the interview process is scheduling each interview. Our schedulers work with a list of potential HistoryMakers in each location, contact those HistoryMakers and develop a schedule a week at a time. Our schedulers' job is to make sure that we have the available HistoryMakers and to schedule interviews one a month in advance. Once we have a tentative schedule in place, our research team begins their work. 

2. Researching

Research Work – Our research team uses a number of print and online tools to conduct research on each HistoryMaker. We also ask each HistoryMaker to complete a questionnaire outlining their family, educational, employment, and organizational history. Our HistoryMakers also share biographies, autobiographies and work samples to aid us in our work.

Writing/Data – From this research, our team writes a 15-30 page outline on each HistoryMaker's life, a 350-500 word long biography and a 150 word short biography. The research team also looks specifically for information on the HistoryMaker's education, employment and family history.

Research in the Interviews – The interviewer then uses this information to write their questions so that they are specific to each HistoryMaker. Some basic questions might include:

    1. Can you tell me about growing up?
    2. What was your family like?
    3. What do you want your legacy to be?
    4. How would you like to be remembered?

Our Progress – We have contact information and research files on thousands of potential HIstoryMakers from all over the country. We receive nominations for potential interviewees on a weekly basis.  

3. Interviewing

Travel – The HistoryMakers interviews are conducted by two sets of crews who travel throughout the United States and abroad. The crews spend one week on the road, in two separate locations, interviewing HistoryMakers in three-hour sessions. Our shortest interview in the collection is one hour in length and our longest is over 15 hours. We have traveled to over 80 cities in the U.S. and abroad to conduct our interviews and have completed more than 400 interviews in one year.

Recording – All of our oral history interviews are professionally recorded on video. From 1999-2008 all HistoryMakers interviews were shot on Betacam SP tapes but they are currently shot digitally in high definition. These interviews include stories of ancestry, education, coming of age, careers and personal reflection.

Interview Questions – The interviews are videotaped life oral histories that cover maternal and paternal family backgrounds, early memories and continue through each interviewee's education and career. Our interviewers attempt to guide our interviewees on a compelling narrative of his/her life. 

4. Archiving

Preservation/Cataloging – Once the interview is complete it is transferred to archive staff for processing. It is archived, evaluated, transcribed, catalogued, digitized and encoded using state of the art preservation standards.

Description – Our research team watches each interview, evaluates the interview and writes up a description for what is discussed in the interview. From these descriptions our archival team adds Library of Congress Subject Headings and then encodes each interview by creating EAD finding aids and EAC-CPF records.

Transcription – A copy of each interview is transcribed if funding permits. This is an area of great need since 1,500 of our interviews do not have transcripts due to lack of funding. This alone will cost us more than $1 Million. If transcribed, the interview is indexed, audit/edited and segmented. We segment each interview to prepare it for the digital archive. Our goal is to provide information and digital video content online that is searchable in numerous ways. Please use our digital archive to see the results of our efforts. Not only will you gain access to a tremendous resource, but you will be helping a great cause. Click here to see the digital archive.

Digitization – We currently have over 10,000 Beta Cam SP tapes that need to be digitized into Motion JPEG 2000 video files. Our mission is to create a one of a kind archive that is highly accessible online for a world-wide audience. 

Organizational Overview