Project Proposal: Building a digital repository for my oral history research using OHMS

blog / Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Over the next several years, I will be conducting oral history research in the Eastern Cape region in South Africa.

Therefore, during HST812, I want to build an online oral history repository where I can store, organize, and annotate the audio and/or video that I collect. The repository would be a private password-protected site on my MSU domain, although it would have the potential to be made public if future interviewees and I so chose. Building this repository for HST812 will prepare me to collect oral histories effectively and will allow me to carefully think through the implications of how oral history research is recorded, marked-up, stored, and represented through metadata. So, what will this project look like? Below I break down the what, how, and why of this proposal.

What does this project do?

This project is a private, password-protected site on my MSU domain. The site will be set up to host the audio or video recordings of oral history interviews that I will conduct in the future. Since I haven’t yet collected any interview material myself, I will use sample audio/video files to practice (perhaps from Matrix’s African Oral Narratives collection). Through the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), a free tool from the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky, my site will display video or audio files that are linked to transcripts and metadata, so that users can easily search and navigate within and between interviews.

Additionally, as a supplement to this project I will develop an oral history planning guide for myself, something like a best-practices guide or a workflow document. In this guide, I’ll set out and justify an ideal set of practices for my own future oral history collecting: which recording and transcribing technology to use, my process for digitizing and uploading recordings to my domain, my process for indexing or marking-up interviews, which metadata I’ll use to describe the audio/video files in OHMS.

How will this project work?

First, I will choose a content-management system or repository to host my oral history collection. I might use Grav. I’ll make the site password-protected. Then, I’ll use the OHMS Application to index an interview file and link the transcript to the audio/video file. Then I take an XML file with all this information, and put it on my site. My site will have the OHMS Viewer installed, and users of the site (me), will be able to view/listen to interview files and interact with the indexed transcripts and metadata.

Why this project?

This project will prepare me to conduct my own future dissertation research effectively. Building an online private repository for my oral history collection will protect my data from theft or hardware breakdown, and help me to keep my materials organized. More importantly, the process of indexing the interviews will allow me to begin the work of interpreting oral histories. Choosing which topics are significant to index is an interpretative act, and will contribute to the historical arguments that I make in my dissertation. Finally, building this repository will allow me to think about how (potentially) in the future, I and my interviewees might make the interviews public. How would my oral history repository compare to other digital oral history repositories, and what is the significance of how oral histories are made available online?

Environmental Scan:

In thinking about and developing my project, I will be looking at some of these other examples of digital oral history that either use the OHMS Viewer, or are about South African history.

  • The Hockey Museum’s (this is field hockey, not ice) Peter Savage Oral History collection. OHMS-indexed interviews with famous field hockey players, indexed and searchable within each individual interview. Pros: the oral history collection has an introductory message explaining the collection and its purpose. Cons: the interviews are organized only by alphabetical first name — no way to find interviews with similar topics, locations, dates, etc. No full transcripts.
  • Goin’ North, an oral history collection created by West Chester University about the histories of Black men and women who migrated to Philadelphia during the early twentieth century. Pros: Through the “Biographical sketches” page, users can browse for common tags, and find all interviews that contain that tag. In the OHMS Viewer, there are full transcripts as well as indexed segments. Cons: Can’t really think of any. This is a very comprehensive oral history repository.
  • The Inanda Seminary Oral History Project is a transcript-only oral history repository, and does not use OHMS. It’s a collection of several dozen interviews that the historian Meghan Healy-Clancy conducted with former staff and students of Inanda Seminary in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Because the subject matter of this oral history repository is so tightly defined, this collection provides a very comprehensive set of oral history resources for scholars of religion in SA. Pros: a finding aid and a guide for how to cite the interviews. Cons: contains only PDF transcriptions of interviews, so no way for users to search within and between interviews for keywords, etc.


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