Thursday, January 8, 2009

The medium makes the history

As part of our public history class we will all be conducting an oral history later in the semester. In preparation for our oral history interviews we recently had a class in which we discussed the benefits, practices and pit falls of doing oral history. The impact of actually hearing an oral history vs. reading the transcript of an oral history was mentioned, and for the large part we decided the keeping an oral history in its audio form allowed for a wider range of emotion and information to be evident.

After class I began wondering about the availability of oral histories online. In class someone mentioned the oral interviews of firefighters from 9-11 being avaliable online. I highly recommend that if you are looking to remember those lost that you listen to some of these oral histories, as they are very emotional and expressive.

Similarly, The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive is particularly moving, and includes oral histories from over 130 Holocaust survivors from a variety of locations. The majority of these interviews have both audio and transcripts avaliable online and are down according to contents, so it is possible to listen or read only particular segments. The site, like the firefighter interviews, provides a good example of the impact a medium can have upon the history. The transcripts of the of the Holocaust survivors are broken into questions, and do not resemble the actual conversation and story that is going on in these interviews. By changing the interviews into a written source the interviews lose some of their impact, but conversely the information is much easier to handle and it is easy to search of specific information.

I also came across the Rutgers Oral History Archives of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. These archives feature 470 interviews and provide the personal military details of those being interviewed as well as interview transcripts. the archives are also searchable based on military awards, military branch, college class, and alphabetically. The only downside being that none of these histories are in audio format. The interviews are still valuable as they provide an intimate look into various wars, however the lack of audio makes the interviews seem less emotional than those of the Holocaust survivors or firefighters.

The Oral History Museum site is also worth noting. The Oral History Museum was established in connection with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, and contains over 9,000 hours of recorded oral history. The disappointing part being that none of this extensive collection is avaliable online, and the site makes no mention of digitizing these interviews and making them accessible online.

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