Discussion About Innovative Oral History Practices

Oral histories have long been a way for archivists, ethnographers, cultural historians, activists, and others to document practices and experiences that are process-oriented, ephemeral, subjugated, or are in some way left to the margins of the textual historical record. Traditionally, the oral historian will conduct the interview with the participant in a familiar place and after the events and experiences to be recorded have occurred, whether these are from the distant or more recent past. The participant recounts memories and stories and the interviewer digs deeper into these memories with further questions.

Both changes in technology and shifts in the concerns of archivists and marginal communities have begun to push this old model into new places. The prevalence of Google docs and Skype have made new kinds of interview structures possible. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring have pushed the necessity of recording oral narratives increasingly closer to the moment of the event itself. I want to hold a discussion on new possibilities for oral histories: what are new ways in which oral histories are being recorded? are new kinds of relationships forming between interviewers and participants?

Personally, I have begun working on a project to document ephemeral artwork by conducting oral history interviews with attendees at exhibitions of performance and process based art. While I am not yet ready to fully present on this project, I would be able to discuss my thoughts behind it and findings so far. Rather than formally presenting on this project, I would like to use this to stage a discussion with other conference goers on the changing landscape of oral histories. I want to hear about others’ experiences with the changing role for oral histories in community archives.

“Some Advantages and Disadvantages of E-Archives — ‘New Roots Latino Oral Histories’ and ‘Digital Harlem’” (Alicia Rivero)

Updated content to reflect the actual session that we had (AR).

An interactive session featuring the advantages and disadvantages of the following e-archives, which we will explore virtually. We can also discuss how universities can help heritage communities.  Please bring your laptop.

  • New Roots Latino Oral Histories is housed at The University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library.  It was compiled by UNC’s Latino Migration Project. See http://migration.unc.edu/programs/new-roots-nuevas-raices.
  • Digital Harlem (digitalharlem.org) could reinforce racial stereotypes, but it also has very useful sources about ordinary people, events, and documentary sources with respect to Harlem from 1915-30.

Make/teach: create finding aids using free tools

Thanks to everyone for attending.  Special thanks to Eric for making this cool google doc with all the links covered:


This session stepped through some of the tools that could be used to make finding aids for free.  We looked at a free text editor.  We looked at a free online xml validator and some desktop applications that do xml validation.  We looked at free templates online that can be tweaked in your text editor.  Someone (sorry I don’t remember your name!) pointed out that the page hosting the templates also has a “request your own form” link.  Let us know if that works outside the state of California if you try it!  We also looked at the EAD Cookbook that has different xslt or stylesheets.  Stylesheets in the cookbook are used to transform xml into html.

Eric’s google doc (link above) will also be the home page for any information posted about a project to use google forms to create VERY BASIC finding aids.  I’ve never done this before, so this will be a learning experience for me as well.  If you didn’t join the session, but want to join the project, add your email to Eric’s google doc.  Phase 1: designing google form. Phase 2: reviewing and testing google form.  Phase 3: I will write some ruby to transform into ead.  Phase 4: review and refine.  Phase 5: go over ruby script so we all know what it does and how to tweak it if you wanted to make small changes to the google form.

Creating historical interpretive sites with WordPress

David Whisnant and I would like to propose a session (probably a “talk” session, though we’re willing to incorporate a little “teaching” of what we know) about using WordPress as a historical author (as opposed to the manager of an archive or collection) to create historically interpretive websites and/or blogs.

Our particular interest is in creative, flexible, intellectually responsible, and easy-to-use tools and approaches that allow the author(s) to interweave selected online historical materials (images, documents, sound or video files held largely by archives managed by others) into new interpretive narratives.  We would like the session to focus on techniques and practices that go beyond linking out to relevant primary sources and that, rather, either embed them as appropriate in the blog  or allow them to be visualized together in new ways in order to create a visually rich, interpretive experience for readers.

We will speak primarily from our own experiences developing David’s new historical blog, Asheville Junction, and Anne’s two class-created websites that present elements of Blue Ridge Parkway history: The Unbuilt Blue Ridge Parkway and Parks to the Side.

We would like to brainstorm with others about tools and plugins that are valuable for these purposes. These could include visualization tools like DH Press or TimelineJS, or more utilitarian plugins that, for instance, make sites allow easier management of WordPress media libraries.  Suggestions for tools and techniques for handling images (everything from format and resolution to controlling alignment within the blog) would be especially welcome.  We would also like to reflect upon some challenges we have had in working with the materials at some online archives, in hopes of presenting a bit of “user perspective” that might be helpful to those who are creating or managing online collections.

As a related issue, we would also like to talk about developing a workable set of “best practices” for how best to embed and credit the visual objects, sound files or other media that one’s historical blog draws from various online archives and sources.

Refining Cataloging and Presentation Methodologies To Improve Community Engagement

This proposed session is designed to give us an opportunity to approach a problem, understand its implications, network among your colleagues, and present ideas on how to best represent materials both digitally and in person to our patrons going forward. 

We need to understand who would be using the collections and services and how these patrons want to access and use our local culture and history resources. By understanding the needs and abilities of our users a more successful “user experience” could be designed to engage them. The concerns of both users and nonusers are important to us as we rethink the user experience. Users in the 21st century expect a friendly, easily accessible experience that gives them choices for discovering and using local culture and history resources. This includes a welcoming and easy to use physical environment, expert staff to assist them, print collections that are properly displayed, more materials available in digital formats notably in the most commonly used mobile platforms, and ease of discoverability both in person and online.


Your community is undergoing a major renovation of a public landmark/location and/or university building which will significantly alter the way the area is used by residents, businesses, and visitors. Your Special Collections department is beginning a project to find ways to make its online and print collections more “discoverable” for a wide range of users. For this project we will be focused on two groups of users: college freshmen or sophomores taking an entry level history class and a visitor who is strolling along the the outside of the institution (e.g. museum, library, etc.)  We are looking for ideas about how to enhance our print and online collections to make the resources easier to discover. Let us propose enhancements and/or modifications to meet the needs of the teacher in the classroom and the visitor walking along institution.

Processing Born-Digital Materials on a Shoestring

Community archives care for many born-digital materials generated by individuals and organizations that often lack the ability or incentive to extensively prepare the materials before they fall into the hands of archivists.  The result is often an assortment of digital media, web captures and files transferred over the network that reside at varying degrees of “backlogness.”

What are the tools and strategies that record creators and archivists can use to get a handle on digital materials, particularly when they have limited resources for IT investment?  What should their immediate priorities be?  What should archival triage look like?  How should more product, less process (MPLP) look for born-digital materials in small institutions?