Oral history has, in the words of Doug Boyd, “grown as a resource for historical and cultural documentation by both academic and community scholars” (OMHS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free). However, public historians, librarians, and archivists are still determining the best and most cost-effective way to publish oral histories online and making them available and navigable to the general public as well as scholars. Boyd’s work with the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the Kentucky Digital Libraries is making great strides in achieving the above goals. This is due in large part with the development of the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), which made its online debut in 2008. The OHMS “inexpensively and efficiently increases access to oral histories by locating precise segments of online audio or video that match a search term entered by a user” (Ibid). The OHMS system is open-source and can be linked to other course management systems and platforms such as Omeka via plug-in. OHMS and how it works is best described in a two-minute video (OHMS Tutorial) that features the following graphic:
The American Folklife Center launched the Occupational Folklore Project (jointly sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services). It engages folklorists, oral historians, librarians, museum professionals, independent scholars, and other researchers according to Nancy Groce and Bertram Lyons. It is an amazing, and amazingly ambitious project that ultimately seeks to engage larger institutions including non-profit organizations, large libraries, and universities. They have divided the project’s online instructions and protocols into two parts: publicly accessible pages on the AFC/LOC website and the custom-designed online catalog IDF template (Interview Data Form). While very specific and detail-oriented, this five-step process might prevent participation because it requires some technical expertise and extensive time beyond just the interview and oral history indexing/transcription itself.
Another project that is managed by the American Folklife Center is the Veterans History Project. While the Occupational Folklore Project is still in the beta-stage, the Veterans History Project has achieved success using a slightly different, less technologically sophisticated but more straightforward model. Those interested in participating or conducting an interview simply request a Veterans History Project Interview Kit. There is also an accompanying 15-minute video tutorial (Veterans History Project). In my opinion, the Veterans History Project protocol and process is more appealing and will attract greater participation from the general public.
Digital technologies have simplified and complicated the practice of oral history. Oral history as part of digital projects is more accessible and user-friendly (for consumers and well as crowdsourcing participants) because of open-source systems and programs such as OHMS. At the same time, incorporating oral history into digital projects adds another layer of technology that must be maintained, updated, and made compatible with the larger project cms or infrastructure. While oral history is not a major focus of Nashville Sites, it could be a consideration down the road. Finding Nashvillians who witnessed a historic event or have family connections to important figures connected to the historical markers could enhance the project. It would also be a way to make the project more attractive and relevant to residents of Nashville (as a target audience).
Boyd, Doug. “OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free.” Oral History Review 40.1 (2013): 95-106. Published on March 20, 2013.
Bertram, Lyons and Nancy Groce. “Designing a National Online Oral History Collecting Initiative.” Oral History Review 40.1 (2013): 54-66. Published March 26, 2013.