Skip to main content

In the Bubble: Covid-19 Pandemic Oral History – communities sharing stories

News: 5 May 2020

Kia ora koutou, we hope to encourage people in their own communities to collect and share informal short interviews during the Covid-19 pandemic in Aotearoa New Zealand. During this time you may decide to interview someone in your bubble, or someone outside it via online recording.

We suggest you don’t try to collect a whole of life history, but instead ask some basic topic questions related to current experiences such as:

who interviewees are
who they are in a bubble with
what their current experience under lockdown is like
what they’re observing about their local world and also the wider situation in NZ and beyond
what they are doing during lockdown
are they using social media differently, and if so how? Do they listen to radio? Watch television?
what they hope to achieve during this time (if anything)
who they might be looking after, who might be looking after them (in the bubble or remotely?)
has lockdown changed the way they do anything?
do they imagine anything will be changed for themselves or in the wider community when lockdown is finished?
some may wish to share songs or stories that they enjoy or websites or other information.

People should conduct interviews in the language they are most comfortable with.

The interviews should be short, of 30 mins maximum length. Online distance recording has challenges, and the longer the interview the more likely there will be WiFi interference or apps will crash or drop out.

Image is of handmade face masks made by Mary McTavish.

If possible do more than one interview, perhaps every week for a number of weeks to get a sense of a person’s experience over time. State the date every time you record, as well as the interviewee’s name and your own. Also say what you are recording on (Zoom meeting software, Skype etc).

Platform for recordings – A group-based app such as WhatsApp can be used to record oral historian/interviewer and narrator/interviewee. Zoom, Skype, and other platforms can also be used, or the audio recorder on your phone. Zoom creates both audio and video files, which can be useful to have a visual reference for the conversation.

Interviewers should use whatever software they can find on their computers or online, which will probably be Skype or Zoom free versions. The narrators (interviewees) don’t necessarily have to download the software, often being able to join a meeting through their web browser. Note that the quality of the recording depends on the set up at each end (see tips below). Recording software for gaming is very good, so check your computer for programmes already installed which can record people talking.

Some recordings will be done via phone recording using in phone apps. If you have a microphone and recorder, set this up by the speaker or put the lapel mics on and record this as well as via phone or computer. Later it may be possible to mix down a recording using both sources.

Future uses

If you and the interviewee choose to share an interview online, we suggest a 5 day stand down period as this allows time for the narrator/interviewee to think about it and have any discussions about concerns or doubts. Interviews do not have to go online if people feel uncomfortable about them – they are an important record for that person and their whānau regardless of whether it is published/put online.

Tips for recordings

Do a pre-interview test with your interviewee. Test the equipment, make sure they’re comfortable using it, listen to the environment they’re in, and help them with suggestions about making it less echoey etc – see below
Try to reduce echo from hard surfaces by covering them with blankets, towels or sheets and closing curtains
If you and the narrator/interviewee have headsets with microphones, use them to reduce echo
Ask people in each household (yours and theirs if separate) to stop using internet during the recording as it will affect internet bandwidth
At the beginning, ask the interviewee to state their full name, and their birth date if they wish – the interviewer should say their name, the date, and what recording system they’re using (Zoom, cellphone etc)
If recording on phone, set to airplane mode because it will stop interference
Ask open questions – ‘how do you feel?’ Rather than ‘do you feel sad?’
Really listen – ask follow-up questions if you don’t understand, or think there is more to explore – let people know they can refuse to answer a question.

What next?

When you’ve completed your recording, save it to your computer with the name of the interviewee, the name of the interviewer, and the date. Share the recording with the interviewee.

We are happy to answer any patai you may have about collecting oral histories.

Dr Emma Jean Kelly, Historian (Audio-Visual Content), Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage [email protected]


Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor. Full list of national helplines are available on the Mental Health Foundation's website.
Family violence support
Minstry of Health website
Healthline: 0800 358 5453 OR non-coronavirus health concerns – 0800 611 116
Plunketline: 0800 933 922
EAP services or by phone 0800 327 669 (this service is paid for by some workplaces as support). 


Updated on 22nd July 2020