Prototyping an Oral History Archive: NATO Bombardment in National Memory and Nostalgia

Like many graduate students, I am currently in the midst of applying for summer fellowships and research funding. One of the fellowships I just applied for would grant me funding to conduct an oral history project for the 20th Anniversary of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. In the event I’m awarded this grant, an important part of this project down the line is building a digital space for these interviews to live. I want these stories to be publicly accessible so that people can hear and engage with them, educators can use them as teaching tools, scholars can utilize them as primary sources, and policy makers can reference them when making important decisions in foreign affairs. For my digital project for this class I’d like to build a prototype of what this site would look like and how it would function.

Project Description: This online oral history archive would live on an Omeka S server (access provided by American University.) It would host the fifty or so oral history interviews collected through my (potential) summer fellowship research. The site would have important contextual information about the project and NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. It would also provide a timeline, so users can understand the series of events that took place and a glossary to provide reference for terms that often appear in interviews but are unfamiliar and/or unique to this event. The archive itself would host each oral history interview. It would provide biographical information on the interviewee and eventually a transcript of the interview. Each video would be tagged based on interview content and the oral history archive would be key word searchable. Users could search based on theme, places, gender, and birth year. An educational section of this site would later be created and geared towards high school and university instructors.

Audience: This site would be built for several audiences. First and foremost, it’s for the interviewees themselves. Having a space where interviewees can go and listen to their interviews and share them with people important to them is a vital aspect of this project to me. The second audience this site would be built for is the public. This would be a site that anyone trying to learn more about the NATO bombing could easily access and navigate, but also a space useful to educators, scholars, and policy makers.

Existing Projects: So many oral history projects are now hosted online as either archives or through digital story telling platforms. My vision of what this site would look like draws both on the Croatian Memories Project and Oral History Kosovo. Both of these sites are well done and easy to navigate. They make different historiographical interventions than this project, but they provide good models of what a successful online oral history space looks like.

Plan for outreach and publicity: This online oral history archive would be shared among its interviewees, which would hopefully produce a ripple effect and allow its reach to grow. It would also be advertised to the numerous former-Yugoslav communities in the U.S. and abroad. Links would also be sent to secondary education facilities and universities. Specifically, I’d try to be in touch with university libraries who could link the projects on their main sites. I’d also utilize social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram (#twitterstorians) to gain a base of followers.  

Evaluation Plan: The success of this project would be measured over time and in a variety of ways. First, I’d most want to see traffic on the site grow, as long as there is a steady increase of traffic, that’s progress. Second, I’d be interested in receiving feedback from instructors who use the site. Their comments would indicate how useful the site actually is to the public and what changes need to be made. Finally, down the line, I’d be interested in seeing if/how these interviews are being utilized by scholars. I’m not yet certain how this would be tracked, but I think it’s a reasonable way to measure success since this project aims to add to the historiography and body of literature on the former-Yugoslavia.

Print Project Proposal: “The Changing Language of Reproductive Justice”

The language used to talk about reproductive rights is changing. Last semester I studied the historiography of reproductive justice to understand how it has emerged from studies of reproductive rights and reproductive politics to the more inclusive and activist-oriented term “reproductive justice.” As a field of historical study, reproductive justice is closely related to activism which makes it a particularly interesting and fast-changing area of study.

A major aspect of this field is understanding how language is used when talking about women’s reproductive rights. Oftentimes, reproductive rights is framed only through the lenses of abortion or the falsely framed pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Reproductive justice activists advocate for a more inclusive approach to women’s reproductive rights by thinking about the entire matrix of issues affecting a woman’s right to autonomy over her body and ability to make choices relating to her reproductive health. Historians like Laura Briggs have followed this lead by studying, for example How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics. Demonstrating how historical scholarship can parallel and inform women’s reproductive rights advocates, collectively shifting towards a reproductive justice framework to better encompass women’s experiences through an intersectional lens.

Briggs’ history built upon early works done by leading historians of reproductive rights who have long understood the relationships between reproductive rights and other politics, many of them approaching the study with an intersectional approach which accommodates women’s variety of reproductive experiences and concerns. It makes sense then that, overtime, historical scholarship has joined with reproductive justice activists to identify and name a historical field of study: Reproductive Justice. Historian of reproductive politics, Rickie Solinger, teamed up with human rights and reproductive rights activist Loretta Ross to publish Reproductive Justice: An Introduction in 2017, indicating a shift in the relationship between scholarship and activism in this area of study. With that publication, they kicked off a series published through the University of California Press: Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the Twenty-First Century.

So, with all of that, you may be wondering what my project is! To be honest, I am struggling with how to use these digital tools productively, so in the spirit collaboration I’ve been finding in the digital history field, I am looking forward to feedback on this project idea in terms of digital tools to use and feasibility. I know that it is worthwhile and probably could work for this project, but the nuts and bolts are harder to wrap my head around. My pitch is something along these lines:

Using digital tools, perhaps the TIME Magazine corpus and Google Ngram, I will look for trends in how the language around reproductive rights and politics through activist and scholarly lenses have shifted towards the social justice framework up to the culmination of “reproductive justice” as the new vision for activism and then historiography.

What’s important about these trends is the language we use as activists, scholars, and as people who generally talk about women’s reproductive rights and how that affects policy and more importantly women’s lives. I hope this idea will work for this project because I think we can all benefit from understanding why we use the terms we use to talk about these issues.

Print Project: “Virtual Landscapes: Exploring America Through Video Games”

While visiting the National Museum of American History (NMAH) you might find yourself in some of the newly opened exhibits in 3 West and as the museum fatigue sets in, you find a couch to take a break on. While you’re sitting, you look across the room at the flat screen televisions lining the wall. As you watch them, you might become confused as to why a museum is showing a video of a Minecraft version of the famous “Oregon Trail” video game. Next on the screen is a dystopain adaption of Washington, D.C. (Fall Out 3), then a detective walking the streets of a post-World War II Los Angeles (L.A. Noire), then a hooded figure wandering the streets of New York City during the Revolutionary War (Assassin’s Creed III). The point is- you might not have expected to see video game footage down the hall from the Ruby Slippers.

A dystopian view of D.C. from a couch

While I sat there to see what other games were included, I also took the time to observe visitor reactions towards the display. For some, they excitedly pointed out to their group that they played the games shown, others were understandably confused, and in the case of an older married couple sitting next to me- while they never played L.A. Noire, they pointed at a theater being shown in the game that they actually visited.

What we were all looking at was an effort made by NMAH that encourages visitors to explore how video games visually re-imagine American landscapes:

Next to the televisions is a touch screen tablet that gives more background about this display and each video game being shown.

So- why is this important? Why should video games be given attention like this by national museums, or emerging public historians like myself? In our discussion about Schmidt’s examination of the historical accuracy of language used in Downton Abbey, some in our class brought up the importance of examining the presentation of history in popular culture. This doesn’t mean as historians we’re obligated to pick apart every episode of a show or a cutscene in a video game to point out its inaccuracies. Instead, seeing digital mediums like video games as tools for historical learning can lead us to important opportunities when engaging with the public.

Minecraft: Education Edition offers teachers pre-made, educational maps that they can use as interactive learning activities in class, like the Oregon Trail map seen above.

Video games are not entirely accurate to the period they are depicting; however historians have been known to work with developers in creating this content. For example, Assassin’s Creed III employed the help of professional historians in the recreation of Revolutionary America. Whether they are completely accurate or not, video games are popular, and some of the most successful games in recent years have been games with historical themes. This is important to understand as historians, especially public historians, because a lot of people are constructing their knowledge about history by playing these games (or engaging with other forms of pop culture).

The goal of this project, then, would be to 1.) examine how the public engages with historical video games; 2.) how historians participate in the development of such games; and 3.) discover how museums or other institutions, groups, organizations can use these resources in their interpretation of history.

Assassin’s Creed III

Print Project Proposal: Ireland’s Reaction to the Age of Revolution

The Age of Revolution swept across the Americas and Europe, promoting patriotic rhetoric alongside anxieties surrounding change.  Between 1650 and 1750 “revolution” changed from a lowercase word to an uppercase one, emphasizing a shift in thinking.  England, having gone through its own “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, largely reacted to these new revolutions with fear.  This response has been publicized in popular literature, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, but what did the Irish have to say about these changing times?

Relations between England and Ireland have not been without their challenges.  Filled with rebellions, battles and political strife, Ireland’s history leading up to the Age of Revolution is filled with English oppression.  So how did they react when one of England’s other colonies revolted against it and won?  Or how did they feel about the bloody Revolution just across the English Channel?  I hope to find the answers to these questions by looking into Irish newspaper articles from 1750 to 1800.

My original inquiry was sparked by a search on Google Ngram.  The change in the word from “revolution” to “Revolution” has been documented in the literature of the time.  I wanted to look deeper into public opinion by looking at newspapers.  The British Newspaper Archive, partnered with The British Library, has digitized 30,357,848 pages from the 1700s from both English and Irish newspapers.  This resource allows for searches of specific people, places, events, and more.  By using the advanced search you can narrow your field to specific time periods, newspapers, countries, and regions. 

I propose using this resource to analyze the emotions toward the Revolutions of America and around Europe amongst the people of Ireland.  This resource provides allows me access to thousands of Irish newspapers from the time period.  By narrowing my search to cover papers between 1750 and 1800 I can make my search a little more manageable, especially when I look at one or two newspapers, such as the Dublin Evening Post and Saunders’s News Letter. 

Some challenges to this project will be, while narrowing my scope, ensuring I have close to equal representation of different social classes.  Research into the demographics where the newspapers are printed should help with this obstacle. Research from secondary sources will be necessary to provide further context that the newspapers could not provide. By combining primary sources and secondary sources I hope to represent Ireland’s reaction t the changing times of the mid- to late eighteenth century. 

Print Project Proposal: Digital Voices App

The Rainbow History Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community history project and archive focused on queer histories in the Washington, D.C. area. Founded in the digital age, RHP has made frequent use of digital tools for its archival and historic work. Part of this history is the use of oral histories as a way of animating history with the voices of those who were there.

The problem for many, however, is that these voices aren’t always going to be heard. They’ll lay dormant on the internet with no actual attachment or relevance to the real world. Making a mediation for this archive, then, is the purpose of this print proposal. In short, the creation of a tour app through the use of out-of-the-box mapping tools to attach relevant clips and oral histories to maps and locations would be a great step toward bringing these voices alive.

The most important thing about this kind of project is, of course, maintaining shared authority, and whenever possible, the option for narrators to re-record, film video, or contribute materials for inclusion in the app would be welcome.

It obviously stands to reason that financially this would be a serious undertaking, and certainly one that’s fraught with certain risk on the time side, but as with any digital media effort, following best practices and ensuring an adherence to certain protocol in material sourcing and use would ensure the maximum possible opportunity for inclusion and access for partners and collaboration.