Life History Calendars (LHCs) are designed to collect individual-level information on the timing of personal events and circumstances. As social scientists increasingly focus on cause and consequence and design complex dynamic models of individual behavior (Abbot and Hrycak 1990; Yamaguchi 1991), data collection designed to match these models and provide accurate information is in high demand. Life History Calendar methods attempt to strike a balance between structured and unstructured approaches for collecting retrospective reports. On the one hand, a series of highly structured survey questions may be detached or force less natural recall practices. On the other hand, less structured oral history methods that allow the respondent to report in an individually contextualized and meaningful way may run the risk of expending measurement effort on multiple topics irrelevant to the study aims. The Life History Calendar method explicitly combines elements of structured survey questioning with less structured oral history and adds a graphic reference to help informants provide accurate recall.
We describe the features of Life History Calendars below, as well as the particular application of Life History Calendar methods employed in the Chitwan Valley Family Study. The application we discuss provides examples of the flexibility of calendars and how they can be revised to work in a broad range of circumstances to study a wide variety of topics. It also demonstrates how less structured methods can be used to inform key features in the design of Life History Calendars.