Recently I wrote a post about the advantages of using the services of a personal historian. Today I’d like to focus on six questions you need to ask before hiring a personal historian. There are no professional bodies that certify or oversee personal historians. Anyone can hang up a shingle that says “personal historian”. So it’s buyer beware.
- Does the personal historian belong to any professional associations? Belonging to an association such as the Association of Personal Historians, the Oral History Association, or the National Storytelling Association is important. It means the personal historian takes his work seriously as a professional. Associations provide their members with opportunities to learn more and improve their skills.
- Does the personal historian have samples of her work? Even if a personal historian is just starting out, she needs to be able to show you a book or video that she has completed. You want to be able to assess the quality of her work.
- Is the personal historian open to having you talk to previous clients about their experience? It’s useful to get previous client’s evaluations. While it’s not foolproof, it does allow you to have a better feeling for the person you may hire.
- Does the personal historian operate in a professional manner? Does she show up for appointments on time? Does he have a contract that spells out precisely what each stage of the production will entail and how fees are to be calculated? Does she answer all your queries in a prompt, courteous, and clear manner? Does he refrain from pressure tactics?
- Do you feel comfortable around this person? Whether you’re hiring a personal historian for yourself or another family member, you want to feel at ease. It will not be an enjoyable experience if you end up spending many hours with someone you don’t like.
- Before becoming a personal historian, what was the person’s previous work experience? Personal historians come from all kinds of work backgrounds. But it’s fair to say that many come with experience in the humanities. It’s not uncommon to find former journalists, filmmakers, editors, librarians, and teachers now working as personal historians. There are exceptions to every rule but you’ll likely find a more skilled personal historian coming from the ranks of those who’ve “apprenticed” in the arts. Someone with little life experience whose previous employment hasn’t lent itself to crafting skills in interviewing, writing, and editing may not yet be ready to take on a professional assignment as a personal historian.
Photo by Gareth Simpson