It has taken some time for my interview project to get going. An attorney acquaintance here generously revised my copyright/permission for use agreement to abide by US and Lithuanian law and translated the form into Lithuanian — but I didn’t receive the final version until November. December, of course, was busy with the holidays, both for me and my potential interviewees. Finally, in January, I began scheduling interviews with people whom I met in 2009 and actively following up on leads for other potential interviewees.
Because I’m an academic and I have to have a formal methodology for my project, I am using something called “snowball sampling.” Snowball sampling can be used when a statistically representative sample is not necessary. It’s really just a fancy way of saying “I’ll interview people and ask them to recommend other people whom I should interview.” This is a typical methodology for historians doing oral interview projects because we often don’t need statistical representation, we just want to collect people’s narratives about the past. However, it is interestingly relevant to my research topic because it models the way in which information about the events I am studying was transmitted. There were limited official statements about them; people knew because someone who saw the demonstrations or heard about Kalanta’s self-immolation told their friends and relatives. News about the events in Kaunas in 1972 “snowballed” through Lithuania in the same way that I am “snowballing” to learn about people’s memories of those events.
And like a snowball picking up snow as it rolls down a hill, my interview project is picking up speed. My goal is to interview at least five people a month. In January, I interviewed four people. This week I interviewed eight people in six days. Seven of them were referrals from other interviewees or people with whom I’ve discussed my project. One is a person whom I met in 2009. Hopefully I won’t keep interviewing at this pace. It’s exhausting and leaves me little time to process the interviews and continue writing the dissertation. But I am very excited about the interviews and I hope the momentum continues. Much of the information will be useful for my research and all of the stories are interesting. It doesn’t feel like work when I get to drink tea and have the privilege of listening to someone share his or her life experiences and memories.