This week’s readings were about the meaning of oral history in the digital age, and how the practice of oral history has been affected by the new tools and technology of the digital age. This post will focus on the articles written by Michael Frisch, Doug Boyd, and Kara Van Malssen.
In “Oral History and Digital Revolution: Toward a Post-Documentary Sensibility” by Michael Frisch, Frisch stresses the importance of how new digitial technologies have opened new ways to work directly and easily with audio and video productions. Before the digital age, Frisch believes that the potential of audio and video documents were largely untapped because they were generally used and represented “through expensive and cumbersome transcription into text” (1). However, with the new technologies that come out of the Digital Revolution, people are able to search and organize within the audio and video documents directly, without relying on a transcription, and any point of the audio or video can be accessed instantly. For Frisch, this is important because this means that the actual voice of the speaker returns to the center of focus within oral history (3). Frisch believes that in the future, the entire practice of oral history will be digital, rendering the use of tapes and CD-Roms (which I am pretty sure are already basically extinct) useless. Frisch does not get into the specfic technologies of the digital tools used in oral history, arguing that they will already be old and obsolute by the time his article is published, since new and better technology is coming out all the time. Boyd and Val Malssen address this issue about oral history in the digital age, especially in terms of preservation.
We have already discussed the impact and issues that can arrise with rapidly changing digital technology in previous weeks when discussing digital archives and digital collections. In “Digital Video Preservation & Oral History,” I had never really put much thought into all of the pieces that make up a digital file before this class, so I appreciated the clarity of Van Malssen’s article. Van Malssen breaks down the most important components of a digital video and stresses that the preservation of a digital video must be addressed by the creator throughout its entire life cycle, not just an afterthught at the completion of the project. Both Van Malssen and Boyd stress that the decisions made about early during the creation of a digital video or audio project, has consequences as the project progresses, in terms of its preservation and usability later on. According to Van Malssen, using video formats that are widely-supported will last longer in contrast to those that frequently change. However, even common and widespread platforms are subject to change, as seen through our discussion about digital archives and digital collections. Therefore, “it is important to constantly monitor the technological landscape to know when a format (container or encoding format) is at risk for obsolescence” and “maintain original, high-quality files in their native codec and resolution.”
Out of the three articles, I really enjoyed Doug Boyd’s article, “Designing an Oral History Project,” the most. I once kind of did an oral history project in high school where we really di not have much guidence except to interview a person. I thought Boyd’s questions for designing an oral history project were supper helpful and something I would have benefited from in the past. Like Van Malssen, Boyd stresses the idea that your decisions in the beginning of an oral history project, has consequences down the road, especially in terms of the kinds of questions you ask. In order to frame your project, you need to ask yourself: Why am I doing this project? What is my desired outcome? What equipment will I be using? All of these questions will provide focus and clarity for your project. Boyd also stresses the importance of preservation throughout the stages of the project, especially when deciding how to create and distribute the oral history project, especially with rapidly changing technology.
Some questions to consider before class:
1. When Frisch wrote his article in 2006, he predicted that oral history would be completely digital within 10 years. Has this happened or are we still transitioning to be fully digital?
2. What other questions and factors are important to consider when designing an oral history project that Boyd may not have mentioned?
3. Have you ever participated in an oral history project and encountered the technological issues that can arise due to rapidly changing technology, and how did you avoid it or overcome it?
4. Why do you think it is so important for Frisch to refocus voices into the center of focus rather than transcriptions of what is said? Do you agree that the potential of audio and video material have been underutilized by historians in the past?