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Your Grandmother Should Know: An Oral History of CLoth Diapers
Preparing Your Interview
by Lori Taylor
Summer 2006

In each quarterly newsletter during this year, RDA will publish an article to help you participate in our oral history of cloth diapering, Your Grandmother Should Know. In the first article, we introduced the project. In this article, we encourage RDA members through the preparation and interview process. See the Project Guidelines for more details.

Prepare for a Smooth Interview

You are a partner in the Your Grandmother Should Know oral history project. You are the interviewer.

You are the ideal person to ask others about cloth diapers. As an RDA member, you already know about the current state of cloth diapers and you want to tell the world. Through your interviews, you create a historical record of cloth diapering in the mid-twentieth century. There is no project without RDA members following their curiosity to their grandmothers and their older friends and neighbors.

With a little prep work up front, you can make your interview go smoothly even if you have never done anything like this before. We have gathered into the Project Guidelines some of the best advice from those with experience in oral history. You will find there a step-by-step guide to preparation and interviewing.

Who should you interview? We don’t know! You know that. Ask your grandmother, your mother, your aunts, or your neighbors. You know the ground locally, so you will find the people who remember what it was like to use cloth diapers a generation or two (or three) ago.

Your preparation will involve finding someone to interview, learning about the time when they diapered their babies, making a list of questions to ask, and gathering the equipment you will need to record the interview. Every interview will be different, reflecting the interviewer and the interviewee. For example, you can make an audio or video recording. Are you already familiar with one or the other? Let your own skills, interests, and available equipment be your guide.

Your Questions, Her Stories

You should prepare a list of questions for the interview. Open-ended questions are more likely to trigger stories. If you ask, “Did you use prefold diapers?” you might hear just, “No.” If you ask, “What kind of diapers were available then?” you might hear more. If you leave the question even more open, requesting “Tell me about the diapers you used,” the interviewee will supply the details rather than confirming details you supplied. Prepare both kinds of questions.

Have more questions than you think you will need. Start with these, if you like.

  • What years did you have babies in cloth diapers?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Tell me about the diapers you used.
  • Where did you get your diapers?
  • What did you use for diaper covers?
  • Did you sew or make any of your own diapering supplies? If so, what did you use?
  • Did you use pins or something else to secure the diapers?
  • How did you wash the diapers?
  • How did you dry the diapers?
  • Who helped, if anyone?
  • Have your children used cloth diapers on their children?

Don’t just prepare questions about Your Grandmother’s own babies. She may remember further back to when her own younger siblings or cousins were cloth diapered. She may have asked her own mother about diapers when her babies were born. Dig to find the oldest memories of diapers she can recall.

At your interview, keep your prepared questions handy, but set out to listen rather than question. Ask just one question at a time. You may need to ask simple questions to start the momentum of the conversation. Or, just jump in with your main question as long as your start isn’t too abrupt. You may even want to start with a short introduction to why you find a mundane household item like a cloth diaper so important.

Cloth diapers seem like such a simple thing, but they can be very important because [your main reason for choosing cloth diapers]. I want to find out what kind of diapers you used and how.

Once she starts to tell you a story you want to hear, you probably won’t need to prompt her much more. Do not interrupt responses. Give your encouragement silently by smiling and nodding rather than speaking. This way, the recording is more about the person interviewed than about the interviewer. Also, remember that you are there to hear her story. Don’t tell your own.

Your goal is to encourage her to tell richly detailed stories about cloth diapers. These stories are the heart of the project.

Your Role

You are the interviewer, the fieldworker, and the gatherer of the important information that makes the project what it is. Your interview is the rich stuff of the oral history of cloth diapers. Your preparation will make the interview appear effortless.

If you decide to interview more than one person, you will probably find that you gain skills and confidence from each interview. Plan one interview to start then improve as you keep going. You can’t interview too many people.

Yes, You Can

If you have a copy of our Project Guidelines, you have a lot of detailed encouragement. None of the prep steps are difficult. Just take them one small step at a time.

  1. Contact the Project Manager for your copy of the Project Guidelines
  2. Create your plan
    1. Arrange an interview
    2. Research the time period of your interviewee
    3. List your questions
    4. Gather recording equipment and learn how to use it
  3. Fill out the Project Plan electronically or on paper and return to Project Manager
  4. Meet and interview Your Grandmother or another person who can tell you about cloth diapers

Isn’t that simple? If any part of the process is unfamiliar because you haven’t done anything like it before, practice, try it on a friend, write to the Project Manager for encouragement, or take a deep breath and just do it anyway. This is an adventure! Have fun. Especially if you have spent a lot of time talking to your peers about cloth diapers, it ought to be interesting extending that diaper talk to your grandmother.

By interviewing Your Grandmother, you are part of our effort to fulfill the RDA mission to “connect current cloth diapering parents to the long history of cloth diapering.” You are the Real Diaper Association. We are all volunteers together, working to advocate cloth diapers.

  • A free copy of the Project Guidelines is available to all current Real Diaper Association members who request it. This is a 49-page book, spiral bound so it opens flat if you need to take it with you to your interview. Please contact the Project Manager by email for your copy of the book and include your RDA member id with your request.
  • Read more about the project and download Project Guidelines from the RDA website. http://realdiaperassociation.org/Your-Grandmother-Should-Know/
  • For more information, contact Lori Taylor at YGSK@realdiaperassociation.org.

In the next issues of the RDA quarterly newsletter, Cloth Diaper News, we will suggest ways you might generate publicity for cloth diapers after you finish your interviews.


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