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Oral History and Documentary History Applications in Library and Information Science

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Title: Oral History and Documentary History Applications in Library and Information Science


1
Oral History and Documentary HistoryApplications
in Library and Information Science
  • Marija Dalbello

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey New
Brunswick, New Jersey, USA dalbello_at_scils.rut
gers.edu www.scils.rutgers.edu/dalbello
2
Introduction
  • content creation in DL context (memory
    institutions)
  • memory institutions shape the historical record
  • documentary history (artefacts, documents)
    traditionally considered basis for forming
    historical memory
  • oral history (eyewitness accounts recorded,
    transcribed) alternative method of generating
    documents about historical experience
  • oral collection of historical material history,
    theory, methodology, how to
  • current applications and trends
  • projects using digital library technology and
    oral history methods to explore new ways of
    collecting and highlighting existing collections
  • tools for DL development

3
Outline
  • Oral History and Historical Research
  • Doing Oral History
  • Historical Concepts in Digital Library Settings
    (Oral History Projects)
  • DL Tools Technology Infrastructure

4
He lived a useful life.
An inscription from a late 18th century tombstone
inside a church in lower Manhattan. Similar
sentiments do not grace Victorian gravestones.
These remember the deceased with love.
5
Oral HistoryThe Story of Lived Experience
purpose
  • Oral history illuminates the experience and
    historical contribution of ordinary people
  • Oral history provides insights into everyday life
    experience
  • Oral history is a way to reach groups and
    individuals who have been ignored, oppressed,
    and/or forgotten
  • Oral history captures personal accounts
    (autobiographical, life stories)

6
Oral History Research tradition
  • (1934/1966) Lomax Lomax (ballads and folk
    songs)
  • (1948) Oral History Project (Allan Nevins,
    Columbia U)
  • (1975) Studs Terkel Working People Talk About
    What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What
    They Do
  • (1980s) Feminist studies of the social / personal
    meanings of women, their work, experience, life

7
Oral History is art, science, and craft
definition
  • A qualitative research process based on personal
    interviewing, suited to understand meanings,
    interpretations, relationships, and subjective
    experience
  • and
  • A product an audio or video tape recording,
    that is an original historical document, a new
    primary source for further research
  • (Source Oral History Workshop on the Web
    (http//www3.baylor.edu/Oral history/Whatis.htm)

8
Historiography Oral History
  • Documentary History conventional written
    historical narratives
  • reconstruction and interpretation completeness
  • focus on written documents, artefacts
  • Oral History oral traditions and other personal
    narratives capturing the structure of feeling
    of everyday life (Williams 1977)
  • broad-based information large-scale projects
    within meaningful historical framework
  • interviews with eyewitnesses of events
  • areas of application diverse academic,
    government, libraries, museums, medical and
    military settings
  • sharing information with the larger community
    (publications and programs)

9
Historiography Oral History
  • Structuralist approach assumptions of an era (an
    époque) are inscribed and embedded in
    (documentary or lived) texts, as parts of webs or
    systems of signification. Any particular text can
    be analyzed in relationship to other texts, as a
    structure of meaning.
  • Cultural theory interpreting practices as
    representations of social relationships.
  • Postmodernist theories see both written documents
    and mundane activities as texts.

10
Oral History as Text oral traditions, memory
history
  • Oral traditionanonymous, functionally modified
    for memory as channel of transmission (mnemonic,
    homeostatic, performative, not reliable)
  • Vansina (1961)
  • Ong (1982)
  • Public Memory
  • impacted by processes of cultural and social
    memory memory shaped by personal interest and
    public institutional contexts (heritage not
    history)
  • Lowenthal (1998)
  • Fentress Wickham (1991)
  • Passerini (1987 1992 1997)

11
Oral History limitations as method of access to
the past
  • Personal or public history?
  • Are we collecting or crafting collective memory?
  • We are discovering voices and empowering them,
    but...
  • Who speaks for history?
  • From whom do we want to hear?
  • Why do we want to hear them?
  • We are collecting memory and placing the voices
    historically but ...
  • Whose voices do we want to privilege?
  • Are we discovering or creating memory?

12
Oral History Research dilemmas
  • How reliable is oral history?
  • What can we learn form oral history that cannot
    be found in written historical documents? How
    does the oral, retrospective character of oral
    narratives influence their content?
  • Do interviews consist of records of what actually
    happened in the past? Or are they shaped memories
    of the individuals who narrate them?
  • How does the presence of an interviewer
    influence the final product? 
  • Can oral history help democratize the
    reconstruction of history?
  • What is the role of libraries in maintaining that
    record of the past?

13
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Planning Project Management
  • discovering voices
  • collecting memories
  • situating recovering voices
  • crafting collective memory
  • Exercise 1 Project planning

14
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Planning Project Management
  • Stage 1 identify general subject
  • Stage 2 justify why recovering particular voices
  • Stage 3 plan for funding organizational
    support
  • Stage 4 identify context for dissemination
    project evaluation (ethical, legal concerns)
  • before you start 20 questions checklist
  • after you start 5 strategies (advisory board,
    goals priorities, project guidelines, staff,
    budget )

15
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Interview
  • unstructured interview techniques consideration
    of legal issues project management
  • Veterans History Project (Library of Congress).
    "Project Kit Interviewing and Recording
    Guidelines (http//www.loc.gov/folklife/vets/guid
    elines.html)
  • Oral History Workshop (Baylor University.
    Institute for Oral History) (http//www3.baylor.ed
    u/Oral _History/Workshop.htm)

16
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17
Oral History Interview

18
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Interview
  • unstructured interview / field techniques
  • introductory announcement prepare questions
    before the interview (write them down)
  • open ended questions short dont begin with
    painful topics follow-up questions
  • give interviewee time for reflection
  • ask interviewee to show you photographs, personal
    letters as a way of enhancing the interview
    (encourages memory and provokes interesting
    stories)
  • bodily cues rather than verbal

19
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Interview
  • legal and ethical considerations
  • never record secretly
  • be yourself dont pretend you know more about a
    subject than the participant
  • prepare release forms
  • recording technology specifications
  • 90 minute per subject
  • tape or video self-standing microphone standard
    speed only test equipment beforehand quiet
    setting
  • focus on face, upper body when recording

20
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Interview
  • Sample Interview Questions (V / Civilians)
  • Segments of the interview
  • Civilians For the Record, Jogging Memory,
    Wartime Work, Life During Wartime, Postwar
    Experiences, Closing Questions
  • Veterans For the Record, Jogging Memory,
    Experiences, Life, After Service, Later Years and
    Closing
  • Use questions but let participant tell his/her
    own story
  • Biographical Data Form in advance
  • Prepare yourself

21
Oral History Project Doing Oral History
Post-Interview
  • Evaluation
  • Oral History Association, Oral History
    Evaluation Guidelines, Pamphlet No. 3 (1989
    rev. 2000) (http//www.dickinson.edu/organizations
    /oha/EvaluationGuidelines.html)
  • Transcription, Editing, Historical Presentation,
    Publication
  • Veterans History Project (Library of Congress).
    "Project Kit Transcribing and Indexing Your
    Interviews" (http//www.loc.gov/folklife/vets/tran
    scribe.html)

22
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23
Oral History (DL) The Living Library Examples
  • memory institutions actively engaged in
    re-conceptualizing historical narrative (public
    libraries, museums, archives)
  • the living library engaging community memory
    with existing collections
  • preservation of local knowledge, record of
    everyday experience, knowledge management in
    the local environment

24
Oral History (DL) The Living Library Examples
  • Bridgeport Working Voices from the 20th
    Century (Bridgeport Public Library)
  • New Deal Projects (Library of Congress)
  • American Life Histories Manuscripts from the
    Federal Writers Projects, 1936-1942
  • African Voices (Smithsonian Institution)
  • Benedicte Wrensted An Idaho Photographer in
    Focus (Idaho Museum of Natural History)
  • Talking History Labor History Archive (The
    University at Albany. State University of New
    York)
  • Bioscience and Biotechnology in History (UC
    Berkeley Bancroft Library. Regional Oral History
    Office Open Archives California)

25
American Life Histories Manuscripts from the
Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
(http//memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.ht
ml) The Federal Writers' Project materials in
the Library of Congress Manuscript Division are
part of a larger collection titled The U.S. Work
Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project
and Historical Records Survey. The holdings from
the Federal Writers' Project span the years
1889-1942 and cover a wide range of topics and
subprojects. Altogether, the Federal Writers'
holdings number approximately 300,000 items and
consist of correspondence, memoranda, field
reports, notes, graphs, charts, preliminary and
corrected drafts of essays, oral testimony,
folklore, miscellaneous administrative and
miscellaneous other material. The American Memory
collection presented here is a coherent portion
of the larger Federal Writers' series. It
includes the life histories and corollary
documents assembled by the Folklore Project with
the Federal Writers' effort.
26
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27
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28
"No one would be interested in my
life."      That was often the response when the
Historical Collections staff asked local
residents if we could ask them about their work
experiences in Bridgeport. "I didn't have an
important job," they frequently added. Somewhat
reluctantly, they finally agreed to be
interviewed. Later, as the tape recorder clicked
off, the person being interviewed was just
getting warmed up. Fascinating stories about
living in Bridgeport flowed like the waters of
the Pequonnock River. Included were details of an
ordinary person's daily life that gave insight
into the past decades, moments that were hard to
visualize for any newcomer to the City.      What
was it like to work and live in Bridgeport,
Connecticut during the past century? Who else
could tell us but people who worked on the line
in the factories sold goods behind the counter
at a department store taught children in the
local schools ran a travel agency, worked as a
housewife, drove a truck, or ran one of the many
other prosperous businesses that helped
Bridgeport grow and develop.      We thank the
people who we interviewed for sharing their life
stories. You are not only interesting your lives
are remarkable. We are happy to share your
remarkable stories with many generations to
come. Who else could tell us what it was like to
work in Bridgeport, Connecticut during the 20th
Century?
29
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30
Idaho Museum of Natural History Benedicte
Wrensted An Idaho Photographer in
Focus http//www.nmnh.si.edu/anthro/wrensted One
of the goals of this exhibition has been to
demonstrate the ways in which photographs, even
those a century old, can be placed in historical
context. Only 1 of the Wrensted images at the
NARA were identified at the onset of the project.
Once they were shown to the descendants at the
Fort Hall Indian Reservation , the families of
origin were discovered. Individual names were
recovered from written records, and today 84 of
Wrensted subjects have been identified. Many of
the photographs in this exhibit are modern
enlargements from copy negatives made from the
best possible prints, which were in turn made
from the original dry-plate glass negatives. A
few of the reproductions are made from vintage
prints.
31
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32
Oral History (DL) The Living Library Examples
  • current approaches
  • shared historical artefacts (x-generational)
  • genealogy
  • databases as community resource
  • shared storytelling
  • tapping into resources of oral culture to create
    an interactive archive with historical documents
  • preserving local knowledge (video)
  • preserving knowledge in communities of practice

33
DL Tools examples
  • Library Archival community standards metadata
  • Engineering community tools technology
    conceptual infrastructure for presentation
  • digital storytelling
  • supporting access to large digital oral history
    archives
  • community databases
  • technologies supporting collaborative work,
    online communities, local sharing
  • multimedia organization tools for presentation

34
Conclusion
  • as they engage oral history in their collections
    memory institutions become active participants in
    shaping historical record
  • acting upon representations
  • offering plurivocality for existing collections
  • hybrid library
  • Tapping into knowledge bases of local subjects
    and the
  • neighborhoods in which they are produced is
    central to empowerment
  • and knowledge to reproduce locality is rooted in
    such dynamic contact
  • of people and technology in the global context.
    Digital libraries should
  • become a site and agency for such knowledge
    production processes.
  • (Dalbello, in print 2003)
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