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Essay On Oral History Interview

For my oral history interview, I spoke to 59-year-old Douglas Cousino. He was born on May 11, 1957 and is a white American. Although I had thought of family and friends back in the United States that could potentially be helpful for a 60s interview, I realized I wanted a face-to-face conversation, not a video call. With a local face-to-face interview, I can observe a person’s body language and make better eye contact, while also having the practical flexibility regarding time zones and distance.

While the late 1960s in the US did not just consist of hippies, drugs and protests, these aspects have shaped common perceptions of that particular time period. I especially wanted to explore a perspective that differed from the anti-authoritarian and antiestablishment viewpoint, perhaps a more conservative and Christian view of the 60s. Therefore, I began to have conversations with fellow members at my local church in Dubai. After a few conversations with members, I spoke with Doug, and found he was very much a young teenager during the late 1960s.

He was kind enough to accept my request for an oral history interview, and helped set up a time by inviting me and some fellow students to lunch after church at his home with his family. Thad wrongly assumed that he grew up in a Christian (Protestant) household and was surprised on the day of the interview when he mentioned that not only did he grew up in a devout Catholic family, but he did not consider himself to be a Christian then. I had told him that I wanted to explore a conservative and Christian perspective during the late 60s.

I did not tell him about particular topics such as racial segregation, counterculture or riots, but rather kept it broad on purpose to see how these particular events and trends shaped his understanding of the 60s. Since he has been a constant source of encouragement during my time at the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) and I am close friends with his children, there was a level of trust between Doug and I that proved very helpful during the interview. I knew that I could probably ask him all sorts of questions, and he would feel comfortable answering them.

In order to prepare for the interview, organized general questions about different topics. Some topics I wanted t ce riots and hippie culture. I ensured that my questions would be open ended, such as beginning my questions with “how did you feel about [event]? ” and then “why do you feel that way? ” In terms of the interview structure, I thought of beginning with more general and “get to know you” questions, then slowly move towards more controversial and sensitive topics, and then wind down with easier questions at the end.

I thought it might also be helpful for me to audio record the interview to fill in gaps in case my memory failed to remember key points. Once again, since Doug and I were already in a comfortable relationship, he was more than willing to let me record the interview, and take notes on a laptop in front of him. The actual oral history interview happened after lunch with his family. I wanted a quieter space and he brought me to their second-floor family room where there were tables, chairs and a comfortable couch. I wanted him to be relaxed so he sat in his rocking chair while I sat on the couch diagonally facing him.

I could faintly hear the commotion of games that were being played by his family and my fellow NYUAD students downstairs but for the most part, the noise was barely perceivable and did not distract from the interview. The interview began with me asking where Doug lived during his childhood. Yet quickly, a simple conversation on Dearborn, Detroit, Michigan progressed into him speaking about various “60s” topics such as Vietnam, drugs and race riots, without me asking any more questions. In reflection, it felt like Doug had an idea of what I, as an interviewer, wanted to hear.

This response may be due to my explanation of my 60s oral history project a few hours before the actual interview. Thus, for the next halfhour or so, Doug kept mentioning areas I had interest in, but not according to the structure or method that I had intended. However, I managed to start probing him to think of what he was aware of as a growing child in the latter half of the 1960s. He distinctly remembered his parents being very fearful of the social changes around the US, particularly the drug and sex sprees in the universities.

Since he had older siblings who were already in the University of Michigan (UM), he was already exposed to different cultural norms such as rock and roll and long hair. He shared an anecdote where he was watching television when news of UM students rioting broke out and his father told him to see if he could find his brothers and sisters in the protests. If they were found in those activities, they would be disciplined by his father. He recalls being confused by not only what his father was asking him to do (and why his siblings would participate in the riot) but also puzzled by the protests themselves.

In terms of politics in his family, Doug sees their Republican leanings due to their strong Catholic beliefs. As churchgoing Catholics, strong moral and social values played an important part in Doug and his family’s lives and beliefs. Again, because I had a close relationship with him, I was able to ask him politely and candidly to expand on how his Catholic upbringing affected his perception of the events during the 60s. He mentioned how divorce was heavily frowned upon, that a man and a woman got married, and stayed married until death.

He recalled how boys and girls both had to be virtuous, but there was more pressure for girls to maintain their virtuosity (and virginity) than boys. He was told to be a good Catholic, listen to the local priest, and not read the Bible “because it made you crazy like the Lutherans, that was how the whole messy Protestant Reformation started. ” Moreover, Doug noticed, even at that age, that the church and his parents never told him concrete reasons why he should not participate in the opular movements of drugs and sex of the 60s, only that it was bad and he should not do it.

The church did not provide any leadership over or viable solutions to the issues during the time. He remembered that the churches began to incorporate more “modern music, folk songs” and nuns being more revealing in their clothes. Thus, by his high school days, him and his friends thought that the church “couldn’t measure up” to the times and was simply, a cultural patch.

One important aspect from my interview with Doug that fitted into the larger context of the 60s was the new media (television) and its influence on the American perception of counterculture and communism. A thread throughout the interview was how television and its respective news programs were the major source for most of his information. Dinner nearly every day involved his whole family sitting together at the dining table and watching the CBS news with Walter Cronkite.

The rise of affordable television (especially color ones) visually and psychologically changed nature of American perception of news and of the wider national and international community beyond the local sphere. Furthermore, television brought graphic images from the armed conflict in Vietnam, the violent race riots and the student protests, all of which served as a new stimulus to ordinary Americans. When | asked Doug what he remembered the most from 1968, he first mentioned Robert Kennedy’s assassination, and the Summer/ Winter Olympics in Mexico City and Grenoble respectively.

These events all came from his television screen: the graphic and intense nature of the Kennedy assassination and the beauty and cinematic experience of Olympic sports. Not all who lived in the 60s were activists, and clearly not all agreed with the student protests. Doug’s parents and their similarly-aged colleagues were extremely afraid of the social changes happening around the US. Doug’s parents served in World War II and built themselves up to the upper middle class.

This comfortable lifestyle, coupled with Catholic morality, was shaken by the rifts in American society caused by race riots, student protests and drug culture. These divides in the US were partly caused by generational differences, confusion and misunderstandings. Like policy makers in Washington, parents struggled to understand the reason behind the social unrest. As seen in primary documents and my interview, the citizens with authority frequently and superficially characterized the youth protest as troublemakers doing “bad things.

Many times, they failed to see the issues that the youth were protesting against, such as the draft for Vietnam, unfair race laws and the commodification of the university system. Through television and education, Americans were consistently taught how the evils of communism meant it was necessary for the US to stop its spread, even if to do so entailed war. Therefore, Doug and his family’s perception of Vietnam was that it was a painful, but necessary battle against the spread of communism.

The breaking down of the Iron Curtain was also an important policy supported by his friends and family because of the televised horrible living conditions in Poland and other Eastern countries, and also because these countries were predominately Catholic as well. The Vietnam and Korean war were taught as Americans rushing to defend these countries from Red China. Taiwan and Chiang Kai-Shek were places and names taught in Doug’s 8th grade history course as America’s friend and only democratic ally of the East Asian region.

Therefore, television played an enormous role in shaping Doug’s childhood just as it changed many other Americans’ lives during the 60s. If I had another opportunity to interview Doug, I would have liked for him to expand on racial relations, especially since he grew up around Detroit. Nevertheless, my oral history interview taught me how life was like for a middle class American – how the chaotic and distressing nature of urban cities affected daily life, and how a particular segment of the population reacted towards the sweeping social changes in the 60s.

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