***Disclaimer: There was confusion and Cristina & I reviewed the same articles, sorry for the repeat in information!***
When sitting down to research a topic, our first objective is to find the perfect primary source to support our claims. What’s your favorite primary source to work with? Picture it in your head! Maybe you thought of diaries, letters, speeches, government files; but how many of you imagined oral histories? As Michael Frisch comments in Oral History and the Digital Revolution, text-based materials are thought to be the most efficient and effective source to engage in history since they are easy to, “read, scan, browse, search, publish, display, and distribute” (Frisch, 2). However, oral histories add a nuance to sources when it comes to the preservation of memory. As Doug Boyd perfectly states in Designing an Oral History Project: Initial Questions to Ask Yourself, “We conduct oral histories, not for obscurity, but to eventually connect one person’s story to the larger historical narrative.” While searching for and through oral histories can provide difficulties, there is a wealth of information than can be garnered from these personal narratives that should be considered when gathering sources for research. Thus, it’s important to understand the production processes and implications of oral histories in order to start utilizing more as they become further accessible with advancements of the digital age.
Why use oral histories?
As Michael Frisch mentions in his article, audio-video recordings are one of the most underutilized forms of historical sources. This is generally because searching for keywords or the right interviews in finding aids is complicated with varying degrees of organization between collections. However, oral histories are becoming easier to work with since technology now allows for, “rich annotation, cross-referencing codes, and other descriptive or analytic ‘metadata’ [that] can be linked to specific passages of audio/video content” (Frisch 3). This means that specific phrases can now be found within these audio/video files, which makes these sources more approachable to work with. Oral histories should be utilized since they offer another layer to analyze than traditional written records do. Oral histories are dynamic in, “context and setting, in gesture, in tone, in body language, in expression, in pauses, in performed skills and movements” (Frisch 2). When conducting or producing oral histories, it’s crucial to keep these considerations in mind. These choices of portrayal, whether for audio or video, affect the message and overall presentation of others’ stories.
Considerations when making an oral history?
There are many considerations to be made when setting out to create an oral history project. In his article, Doug Boyd provides multiple resources and tips to set up a good project, especially if you are the interviewer or director. Boyd reminds aspiring historians to, “understand that an oral history interview creates a relationship between, not only the interviewee and the interviewer but also between the interviewee and the project.” Sharing personal stories has larger implications than the project itself, so it’s important to keep this in mind when framing information for mass distribution. To conduct a successful project, release forms should be signed so participants understand their role in the oral history. Boyd also mentions that oral histories can be expensive if using professional equipment, however they can be conducted with a basic audio recorder or video camera. Audio or video should always be captured at the highest resolutions possible. Kara Van Malssen provided more insight into video recordings in Digital Video Preservation and Oral History. Video captured oral histories introduce additional presentation considerations. Lighting, editing, and directing all contribute to the message that is represented in these visual oral histories. In addition, video or encoding formats have to be taken into consideration; these include: H.264, AVC, DV, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 (Van Malssen). It’s important to keep in mind that every, “conversion from one encoding format to another– introduces a loss of generation,” especially when preserving these histories (Van Malssen). In preservation, the bit and frame rate, frame size, and coloring of the originals should further be kept consistent. With changing technologies between competing companies, the formats of video will shift with the trends, thus techniques within oral history will too (Van Malssen).
Implications of oral histories?
With the constant advancement of technologies and methods, one word seemed to emerge among these three readings: accessibility. In oral history, archivists of these collections seek to share these stories with as large an audience as possible, which has become increasingly easier with internet access (Frisch 4). While this makes much of the material accessible to the public, not everyone has internet access in the first place. This implies that oral history is limited to only privileged audiences. These limitations, along with usability as previously discussed, contribute to the lack of oral history use. However, these forms of evidence provide, “new dimensions of understanding and engagement through the broadly inclusive sharing and interrogation of memory” (Frisch 17). These primary sources add not only new perspectives to historical narratives but have an impact that is different from written texts. There is an added humanity in oral histories that can be both heard and seen that brings history to life.
- Have you ever conducted an oral history? Share your experience!
- Do you find oral histories an accessible option for you to use in your research? How so? Where do you search for these sources?
- Do you see any parallels in these readings with previous weeks?
- Has technology changed since these articles were all written?