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.

One Reply to “Prototyping an Oral History Archive: NATO Bombardment in National Memory and Nostalgia”

  1. This is a smart and well thought out concept for a project. Omeka is a great tool for publishing oral history interviews, and the fact that you have access to the platform through the University is great. If you were to go ahead with this, it would be great to confirm that the university is up for sustain and maintaining the digital objects you would produce for this for the long term. My guess is they are, but it’s always good to confirm.

    It’s great that you’ve identified the interviewees as a key audience. You want to make sure that the project gives back to them and isn’t just capturing their stories for others. I think it would be great to think about some ways that you could engage them in participatory design for the site. That is, when you do the interviews ask them about the kinds of things they would like the site to do. This also offers a valuable vector for thinking about evaluation. It would be great to go back to the interviewees and ask them for their input and take on the results of the project.

    Another way to approach audience and evaluation is to try and build out an advisory board for the project. That is, ask people who represent very different kinds of user/stakeholder communities that you can reach out to for input. So you might see about getting an expert on the topic, someone with expertise in online collections, one or more of your interview participants, and potentially representatives of any other relevant stakeholder communities. That could well be a young person from Serbia that you would want be able to give ideas about how to try and make the results of the project engaging to them or K-12 or college teachers that might use the resource, potential both in Serbia and in the U.S.

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