Reading Response: Oral History

I tend to think of oral history as central to the practice of public history, as it encourages users to think of themselves as contributors to/shapers of history. It encourages users to think of history not just in terms of big events or famous people, but also in terms of the everyday lived experience of ordinary people, as seen in something like the American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklore Project. The readings and projects for this week emphasize the ways in which digital technologies have made the practice of oral history easier. Dispersed groups can be solicited to via the internet, as with the Bracero Archive. Fieldworkers and volunteers from all over the U.S. can be trained to do oral history via online tutorials and can submit and begin processing the histories they collect online as well, as seen in the Bracero Archive and the Occupational Folklore Project. The OHMS tool makes it much easier to create metadata for oral histories, which makes them findable even if they aren’t completely transcribed. One of the drawbacks to the use of digital technologies is preservation, given the instability of digital formats. I also wonder how the prevalence (dominance?) of widely dispersed oral history projects like the ones I’ve mentioned here impacts smaller, more locally focused projects like the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. The community involvement in this project makes it seem like there might be more local interest/investment in the project, but that could also not be the case at all. It just seems more embedded within the community than something like the Occupational Folklore Project.

In terms of my own project, if it were more than a prototype, I do think it would be really neat to collect oral histories dealing with Old Redford. I currently have the contribution form set up so that users can contribute sound files (and maybe even texts?) so if users wanted to contribute oral histories, they could. I do think there’s something to be said for having suggested questions, like the Bracero Archive does, or for focusing the interview on something more specific, so I would want to include tutorials or similar. While looking for oral histories to index in OHMS, I did come across the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project, which I will include on the list of related resources.

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