Oral History Reading Response

In Oral History in the Video Age, Peter B. Kaufman makes a solid argument that in the digital age where the audience of cultural or social history is highly engaged through audio recordings and video screens “‘the thin soil of antiquarian research’ alone could be a teeming and colorful garden, if its keepers recognized how many essays in the online journals of the field could be pollinated by sound clips from libraries like University of Kentucky’s or UNC-Chapel Hill’s.” On one hand, making a point that oral history must keep up with the age of technology in order to engage the audience. On the other hand, he points out that the audience also is in process of making history by recording their own history, which in turn becomes something they desire as an outcome of telling repositories.

The digitization of history, documents, photos, and other artifacts has transformed how we look at or access and perceive historical documents and history in general. Digital technologies have transformed our experiences, the way we engage with archival material. Doug Boyd in OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free discusses the purpose and development of  OHMS in overcoming the challenges posed by oral histories. For example, “They tend to treat the different components of the oral history information package (audio, video, transcript, index, and metadata) as separate entities.” The Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) proposes to users of archival platforms the access to audio, transcript, and search of the text, all while listening to, or watching, the interview. While developing an infrastructure to accommodate these elements can be costly and difficult to implement, it is possible. OHMS provides a free, open source, web based oral history system. Here users are able to perform word searches and provide time correlated transcripts. They offer video tutorials on how to use the system and OHMS can be integrated with other platforms such as  Omeka, Kora, and Drupal.

Audiovisual information in nature makes us less reliant on text for knowledge, and when even more of us have the ability to express ourselves in audiovisual media, perhaps we will be able to explore new avenues in telling history. For instance, the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project does a comprehensive job on presenting the U.S. Cold War nuclear weapons programs through interviews with a wide range of people associated with the NTS. Along with the videos, they offer a thorough transcript, which in a way backs-up or documents the interviews and makes it available in text in its entirety. The Bracero Archive  provides a huge collection of interviews. The Nevada Test Site project seems to go in more depth of examining the topic, while the Bracero project aims in collecting the stories of an experience. They are both effective in engaging the audience with audio or audiovisual storytelling as they present different perspectives on immigration issues or raise questions about tests and other national security programs.

When conduction oral history, one has to step into a different time zone. The immediacy of the person who was among the people that experienced the events the project attempts to describe requires attention. Oral history cannot be conducted from books or notes, they are alive, they diverge, and they dictate their own path. After I interviewed one of the instructors from Mesa del Rey, I realized how my perspective of this local history was organized from looking in with my studies of WWII history from books. Red Rider recolored that picture quickly by telling vignettes of his experiences as a pilot and instructor by allowing his audience to go to the places he has been. It made me rethink what aspects of this projects should be given priority over others. I had considered including details of the building process of the airport since the city offered documents. Instead, I realized that I need to return my focus to the pilots and the personnel who were part of the school because they had created the legacy, and people interested in learning about this local history will connect to the personal anecdotes first before they would read the detailed description of how the school became possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *