Kelly Elaine Navies

National Museum of African American History and Culture Oral History Specialist, Kelly Elaine Navies.

Trudy Hutcherson/NMAAHC

What is oral history? Why does it matter? And how can you begin your own oral history project?

Join National Museum of African American History and Culture Oral History Specialist Kelly Elaine Navies for Soul Talk, an exclusive workshop created especially for supporters like you.

During this session, Ms. Navies discusses oral history as the documentation of history and culture, as well as offer guidelines for recording the stories of people in your family and community. She gives advice on how to get started and plays a few short clips from fascinating interviews that exemplify best practices — and show just how important and moving your subjects’ replies may be.

Watch Our Program

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The Museum has prepared a free downloadable checklist, “How to Do a Family Oral History” for your reference and as a complement to this compelling workshop.

Download Our Checklist

About Your Host: Kelly Elaine Navies

Kelly Elaine Navies’s journey as an oral historian began over 30 years ago when she was an undergraduate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She subsequently studied and worked with the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a Master in Library and Information Science from the Catholic University of America. As the Museum’s specialist in oral history, Ms. Navies coordinates all aspects of the Museum’s oral history initiative. In addition to her work at NMAAHC, Ms. Navies’s oral history projects can be accessed at the Southern Oral History Program, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and the DC Public Library in Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find out more about the NMAAHC’s Oral History Initiative?

A: The best place to start is our Oral History Initiative webpage, which includes a link to our joint project with the Library of Congress to record voices of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as NMAAHC’s Oral History Checklist, where you can find instructions and tips on our Capturing Your Family’s Oral History webpage. You also can listen to other oral histories, such as with donors of collection objects, by searching our online collection catalog.

Q: I loved the workshop, and I’m looking for resources for a deep dive into oral history interviewing. Where should I look?

A: To access more resources and support, we recommend visiting the Oral History Association online. There you’ll find an excellent resources webpage, plus blogs, courses, publications, and communities of other individuals recording oral histories.

Q: I’m interested in remote interviewing. What were those resources you mentioned?

A: The Smithsonian doesn’t endorse products or services, but examples of resources some oral historians use for remote interviewing include TheirStory and Zencastr.

Q: Can visitors to NMAAHC access any oral history recordings of the formerly enslaved?

A: We do have some oral history recordings of formerly enslaved people, which were recorded by the U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the late 1930s. To access the recordings from home, you can visit the Library of Congress’s WPA Slave Narratives collection online.

Q: What do you suggest I do to trace my family history?

A: NMAAHC did an event for donors on family history in November 2020. We recommend you watch that recording on the Our Families, Our Communities, Our Histories event webpage! You also can check out the resources posted in the event’s FAQ, which includes contact information for NMAAHC’s family history center, genealogy resource recommendations, and info about our Community Curation platform and Great Migration Home Movie Project.

Q: I have more questions not answered on any of the above webpages. Who can I reach out to?

A: If your oral history question has not been addressed above, then we invite you to email our NMAAHC oral historian at

Thank you!

We are deeply grateful for your support of the Museum

Share this page