The form below lists the following questions and boxes in which you will type your answers.  Please use the Google Doc to submit this assignment.

  1. Provide the name of your interview subject. You may use an alias if the person is hesitant about using their name, but be sure to note that the name is an alias.
  2. What is your relationship to this person?
  3. Why did you choose this person?
  4. Why is this project being assigned, in other words, what do you see as the purpose of this assignment?

If you are using your own story for the assignment, be sure to explain why you think your story will meet the criteria of the assignment.  Please be sure to see me if you have questions, the earlier the better.


The Basics:

The Personal History Project is a paper based on an oral interview with a person of your choice. The assignment is designed to encourage you to ask about your subject’s life. The goal is to help you understand that history does not exist exclusively in books, but rather shapes all of our lives. Every person has a story to tell, we are all a living part of history. Your assignment is to collect this person’s testimony about their experiences and present it in an essay format, making a personal connection. And relate it to the broader historical context where possible.

The person you select might be a relative, a friend, or a co-worker. Or you may also present your own life story if you feel it is appropriate. The choice is yours, but do not hesitate to consult with me about the person or the topic. You have a lot of flexibility as to the subject, but see me if you have problems identifying a person.

You will find below several different suggestions for topics, but you are not limited by them. You may wish to combine two of them. Or you might have a completely different focus. I encourage you to check with me if you have questions.

Please identify the person at the beginning of the paper and provide basic biographical information such as name, relationship to you, date of birth, and place of birth. If your subject is hesitant about a using their real name and other information, you may use a pseudonym, but please advise the reader of the fact this is not a real name.

Initial Information for Your Paper

A few weeks before your final paper is due, you will be required to submit some basic information on your interviewee. It is a very simple form asking who you are going to be interviewing and why you think this person will be a good resource. If you need to change your subject, that is fine and you do not need to resubmit your form.

Suggested Prompts:

Option 1

Option for 2020: You are currently living through a significant historical event- the Covid-19 pandemic. How is this pandemic affecting you and those around you? What are the implications socially? And has this affected you and those you care about economically? Are they losing jobs? Worrying about bills, rent, car payments? And how is this affecting your friends? In what ways is this impacting your education? How are you and friends, family etc. coping with this?  Has social media been a positive or negative influence in coping? Do you see any differences between older and younger people in terms of how they are adjusting? And what do you believe might be the long term implications?

Option 2

Interview a friend or relative who was involved in a through a chapter in U.S. history, such as the Korean War, or the war in Vietnam, or a more recent conflict or event. Ask them to describe their life during those major events or crisis periods. Be sure to give background on the person’s situation at the time: how old was your subject? Where they living and what were they doing? How did national and international events affect their daily lives? How did those events shape their lives? But be careful about asking them about events that had no direct impact on their lives.

Put this subject’s experience into the historical context. Before you begin your interview read about the event or period you intend to    discuss with your subject. Where possible, you should relate your subject’s experiences to a historical trend. It is a good idea to begin by reading the relevant sections in your text book and see the end of the chapter for suggested additional readings. Provide the reader with background on the period or event: what was it, when was it, why is it noteworthy? How did your subject’s experience fit into the overall picture? (Do not assume that I am the reader and would know about the event.)

For example: Your grandfather was a child during World War II. What does he remember about the war effort: how war shortages affected the family (rationing)? Were there any impacts on his school such as war drives? Does he remember the feeling of the people after the war was over? Can he contrast that with the feelings of the nation during the Vietnam War? Did he know any Japanese or Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps?

Or perhaps you have an uncle or aunt who was in Vietnam or a friend who was in the service in Afghanistan? What was his or her duty during the war? Can your subject provide us with any details about what life on the ground was like?  BUT- any time you are interviewing a person who was involved in combat or been in a combat zone you must be very sensitive to that person’s feelings. The person may not want to discuss those experiences, so go carefully and respect those feelings.

But if the event had no direct impact on the subject’s life, that topic may not be worth including in your paper. For example, your grandmother has spent her adult life in Los Angeles. While the events of 9/11 may have made her very sad, did it have a direct impact on her life? It might be better to ask her about her experiences of raising a family and family history.

Option 3.

Describe your experience (or your family’s) in immigrating to the United States. You may describe your own experiences or you may interview a member of your family regarding their experience. Suggestions for ideas: What was the person’s life in their country of origin? What was family life like? How did immigration from another country affect your life? Why did you come to the United States? What conditions did you find when you arrived here? Where did you settle? Did you have family, friends, or anyone to help you? Were there language problems? What sorts of adjustments did you make regarding culture? What did you find that surprised you?

For example: Perhaps your grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico. What was her life like in Mexico and what “pushed” her to leave and what attracted her to the U.S.? How did she get here and where did she settle? Who did she live with initially and how did she progress from there? What adjustments did she make after arriving? Did she have problems with the language, driving, finding a place to live or a job?

Or perhaps you were raised in Korea and your family sent you to Southern California to attend school. Who were you living with and what struggles did you face? Did you have to deal with language problems? What cultural adjustments did you face?

Or your mother grew up in a small town in West Virginia and moved to California as a teenager. What was her life like in her hometown and how did that differ from what she encountered in Southern California? What did she do when she arrived here and what adjustments did she make?

Option 4.

Interview a person who is over 60 years of age, preferably a family member and ask him or her about their life. You may wish to have that person discuss the major events, factors or people who shaped his or her life and character, or you may wish to ask about family history. Another area you might want to explore: what was life like as a child, a teenager or young adult? Where was this person born, where were his parents born, what kinds of activities was he or she engaged in, etc.?

For example: Your grandfather grew up in East Los Angeles and remained in the area most of his life.  How has the area changed? What cultural and economic changes has he seen over the years? What was life like for him as a child growing up?  What did he do for fun? Who were his friends and what did they do for entertainment?  See the link below to the website of UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research for additional suggestions.


On each of these topics, read the appropriate sections in the text. See the end of the chapters for suggested readings. When using outside sources be sure to cite your sources.

You are to write this assignment in essay format. Use MLA style manual as your guide. Be sure to check your grammar, spelling, and sentence and paragraph construction.  The paper must be typed. It should be a minimum of 2000 words in length (more than that is certainly encouraged). It is highly recommended that you take advantage of the many services provided by the Mt. SAC Writing Center (Links to an external site.). In addition to assisting students with writing skills, they provide assistance in MLA citation and formatting. You will also find a wealth of helpful information regarding MLA style at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (Links to an external site.).

This assignment is worth 100 points. It is a required assignment. The paper is submitted on Canvas under Assignments on the date listed on Canvas. If you submit it after that day and time, 10 points will be deducted from your grade. After that date, you will lose 25 points for each class period it is late.

The range of topics is flexible, so if you have a topic which is different from one of the above, discuss it with me.  If you are having a difficult time selecting a topic or need suggestions about questions, see me.

Items to Consider in Preparation for the Interview:

  • First, If possible select a person you know and if possible conduct as much research in advance as possible. The more you know about your subject, the better the interview will be. Do you have any family photos or movies? If so, look at them. And you might wish to consult general historical sources. If you are going to discuss your father’s experiences in the Gulf War, you will ask better questions if you have read about the war in advance.
  • An unexpected subject may come up in the conversation and you might not be prepared for it. There might be times when it is helpful to research an unfamiliar topic your subject was discussing after the interview. You may find it useful to return to your subject with follow-up questions. For example, your relative mentioned that he or she was involved in the Chicano Moratorium during the late 1960s, but you are not familiar with that organization. It would be advisable to check it out so that you can understand its significance to your subject. You may want to ask additional questions.
  • It is a good idea to record your interview, so that you may focus on your interviewee. You should be able to download a recorder on a smart phone to use for this purpose. Be sure to test the equipment before your interview and practice using it before the interview. And when you start your interview- be sure to test the equipment to ensure proper volume and recording. And make sure your device is charged!
  • And compile a list of topics or questions before your interview but allow yourself flexibility.
  • Don’t rush your questions or your subject’s answers. Ask one question at a time. And listen carefully to the response
  • It is a good idea to have a list of “start-up” questions to make your interviewee and yourself comfortable. Ask easy questions first, such as biographical information and other light questions.
  • After the “settling down” period, you may wish to start on your more substantial questions. Ask a question that will prompt a long answer and get the subject going. Do not ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no response. You should be phrasing your questions to elicit longer answers, unless you are looking for specific facts.
  • Be sensitive to your subject’s feelings about a specific subject and back-off if the person is not comfortable regarding a topic. Families often have sensitive topics so you may want to discuss whether or not your subject will want to discuss that issue.