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Electronic technologies are democratizing access to extant oral history collections by on-line publication of both actual interview recordings and written transcripts of them. While oral historians generally have embraced opportunities for world wide dissemination of their work via the web, many are also appropriately skeptical of the very ease of access the web affords, vastly increasing the possibility for misuse of existing interviews. Especially troublesome is web publication of interviews conducted pre-web without narrators' explicit permission; many feel this violates narrators' rights to decide the level of access to their interviews. Also problematic is the greater opportunity the web affords for anyone to publish anything, regardless of quality.

These concerns notwithstanding, web publication of interviews has numerous advantages beyond mere access. Electronic search engines enable users to identify material relevant to their own interests easily and quickly, without listening to hours of tape or plowing through pages of transcript. Hypertext linkages of excerpted or footnoted interviews to full transcripts allow a reader to more fully contextualize a given quote or idea; to assess how carefully an author has retained the integrity of a narrator's voice in the material quoted; and to more fully evaluate an author's interpretive gloss on a narrator's account. Most exciting though is the opportunity e-publication affords for restoring orality to oral history. Almost twenty years ago Alessandro Portelli argued convincingly that oral history is primarily oral, that "the tone and volume range and the rhythm of popular speech carry implicit meaning and social connotations which are not reproducible in writing. . . . The same statement may have quite contradictory meanings, according to the speaker's intonation, which cannot be presented objectively in the transcript, but only approximately described in the transcribers' own words."* One thinks of irony, for example, as something that is communicated by tone, not words, and so can be lost if not rendered orally. Similarly, hearing, rather than reading, narrator's accounts can render them more compelling, more humane or chilling, more three-dimensional. Quite simply then, by reproducing actual recorded sound, web publication of interviews is perhaps more appropriate than print publication.


American Life Histories, Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
Library of Congress, American Memory
This site features approximately 2,900 life histories, both in transcribed and image form, collected from 1936-1940. The documents represent the work of more than 300 writers from the Federal Writers' Project of the U.S. Work Projects Administration. The histories appear as drafts and revisions, in various formats, from narrative to dialogue, report to case history. Topics include the informant's family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, and diet, as well as observations on society and culture. Interviewers often substituted pseudonyms for names of individuals and places.

Archives of American Art, Oral History Collections

Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art
This site offers transcriptions of more than 180 interviews with a variety of artists, including Louise Nevelson, Robert Indiana, Richard Diebenkorn, and Rube Goldberg. Projects include Texas and southwestern artists, Northwest artists, Latino artists, African-American artists, Asian-American artists, and women in the arts in Southern California. This site also include transcripts for more than 50 of the 400 interviews conducted in the 1960s as part of the "New Deal and the Arts Oral History Program."

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938
Library of Congress, American Memory
A collaborative effort of the Manuscripts and Prints and Photographs Divisions, this site has more than 2,300 first person accounts of slavery. The narratives were collected as part of the 1930s Federal Writers' Project of the Works Project Administration, and they were assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the 17-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Each digitized transcript of a slave narrative is accompanied by notes including the name of the narrator, place and date of the interview, interviewer's name, length of transcript, and cataloging information.

Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive
McCain Library and Archive, University of Southern Mississippi
This website offers 125 oral histories relating to the civil rights movement, drawn from the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Oral History Collection. The site features interviews with civil rights leaders such as Charles Cobb, Charles Evers, and Aaron Henry. It also offers oral history information about prominent figures on both sides of the civil rights movement, such as "race-baiting" Governor Ross Barnett, national White Citizens Council leader William J. Simmons, and State Sovereignty leader Erle Johnston. Approximately 25 of the interviews also provide audio clips from the original oral history recordings. Each interview file includes a longer (250-300 word) biography, a list of topics discussed, a transcript of the interview, and descriptive information about the interview, the interviewer, interviewee, and topics, time period, and regions covered.

IEEE History Center Oral Histories

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
This collection contains 180 interviews with "the technologists who transformed the world in the 20th century." Categories include: the history of the merger of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Radio Engineers to form the IEEE; interviews with distinguished Japanese electrical engineers and managers; the 50th anniversary of the MIT Radiation Laboratory; oral histories of RCA Laboratories in the mid-1970s; and the Frederick E. Terman Associates Collection.

Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World

James Leloudis and Kathryn Walbert, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
This site relies on hundreds of interviews with working-class southerners conducted by the Southern Oral History Program Piedmont Industrialization Project of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The site combines those sources with materials drawn from the trade press and with workers' letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to craft a rich account of cotton mill life, work, and protest. There are approximately 70 audio clips of interviews with mill workers ranging in length from 15 seconds to more than eight minutes.

May 4 Collection
Kent State University
The events of May 4, 1970, on the campus of Kent State University that left 13 students dead or wounded are the focus of this site. The materials attempt to answer why the events took place as they did, what lessons can be learned, and what can be done to "manage conflict among peoples, groups and nations." The site contains online transcripts of 93 of the 132 interviews conducted at May 4th commemorations on the Kent State campus in 1990, 1995, and 2000.

Oral History Online!, Regional Oral History Office (ROHO)

Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
This site offers full-text transcripts of more than 55 fully-searchable interviews, with plans to add oral histories on Black Alumni at the University of California. Current offerings include "The University History Series" focusing on the Free Speech Movement, "The Suffragists Oral History Project," including the words of twelve women active in the suffrage movement, "Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement," "The Earl Warren Oral History Project," and "Health Care, Science, and Technology," featuring interviews regarding the medical response to the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco from 1981 to 1984.

Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II

Sandra Stewart Holyoak, Rutgers History Department
These oral history interviews record the memories of men and women who served overseas and on the homefront during World War II. The archive contains more than 160 full-text interviews, primarily of Rutgers College alumni and Douglass College (formerly New Jersey College for Women) alumnae. Rutgers undergraduates conducted many of the interviews. The easily navigable site provides an alphabetical interview list with the name of each interviewee, date and place of interview, college of affiliation and class year, theater in which the interviewee served, and branch of service, when applicable. The list also provides "Description" codes that indicate the nature of the interview contents, including military occupations (such as infantry and artillery members, nurses, navy seamen, and engineer corps) and civilian occupations (such as air raid warden, student, clerical worker, and journalist).

Women in Journalism

Washington Press Club Foundation
This site provides access to 41 of 57 full-life interviews of American women journalists for three professional generations: pre-1942, World War II through 1964, and post-1964. The collection includes interviews with women who began their careers in the 1920s and continues to the present day. Print, radio, and television journalism are all represented. Interviews address difficulties women have encountered entering the profession and how their growing presence has changed the field. Interviews range from one to 12 sessions and each session is about 20 pages long. The interviews are indexed but are not searchable by subject.


Southern Oral History Program (SOHP)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Southern Historical Collection
"How To: Resources for Planning and Conducting Oral History Interviews," includes The SOHP Guidebook, SOHP Interview forms, and a bibliography of more than 50 oral history resources. The interview forms include a cover sheet, interview agreement, interview agreement with restrictions, life history form, and proper word form. The SOHP Guidebook includes guidelines on designing an oral history project; advice on conducting, cataloguing, and transcribing interviews; notes on budgets and equipment needs; and ten interviewing tips.

Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History
Judith Moyer
Developed by historian and educator Judith Moyer, this thorough guide to oral history offers suggestions and strategies for collecting and preserving oral history. Topics range from an explanation of how and why to collect oral history to guidelines for planning and conducting an interview, including initial research, locating individuals, choosing equipment, and asking productive questions. Moyer also addresses a number of important conceptual and ethical issues related to conducting and using oral histories, including questions of accuracy, the limits of oral history, strategies for overcoming specific interview problems, and twenty questions to help interviewers learn from their experience.


Purpose & Provenance: Is the purpose of the site clearly stated? Where? How? What is the purpose--archival, pedagogical, etc.? Is this a credible and useful purpose? Are you provided with enough information to understand the larger context within which the site was developed, the rationale behind it, etc.? Why would someone use this site?

Credibility: Who has sponsored and organized the site? How do you know? Are the organizers credible? How do you know? Can you contact someone at the site to pose questions, etc.?

Site Features: Is the site well designed? Can you follow its organization? Navigate it easily? Is it updated regularly? Are graphics supportive or distracting? Are there links to other related sites? Are the links credible? helpful? current?

Oral History Material Located on the Site: Does the site include full interviews, interview excerpts, or summaries of interviews? How do you know this? Does the site explain why it chose to present full interviews, excerpts, or summaries? written or audio interviews? If the site includes actual interviews, does it include written transcripts, audio interviews, or some combination of both? Is the level of editing of both written and audio materials made clear?

Design and Technical Quality: How is the presentation of interviews organized? Is the layout easy to follow? If audio is included, what is the quality of sound? Can you hear what is being said easily, with difficulty, or hardly at all? If the site encourages people to submit their reminiscences, how much guidance are respondents given? How easy or difficult is it to submit a response? What is the quality of the responses?

Context for the Interviews: Are the interviews--either taken together or individually--contextualized in any way? Is any background given on the topic(s) of the interview(s) or the individual narrator(s)? What orientation are you given to the purpose for which the interview(s) were conducted in the first place, the project/interview methodology, the interviewers' background, etc. In other words, what tools are you given for assessing the individual interviews?

Searching the Site and Assessing Quality: Does the site include a listing or a finding aid to all interviews maintained by the sponsoring organization? How useful or complete is this listing or guide? Can you search the interviews for information on a specific topic? Do searches return useful citations? Does the site tell you where the individual interviews are archived and if they are available to users? How good are the interviews? Are they interesting, rich, full, substantive, etc.? Do they contain unique information, unavailable elsewhere? Overall, what did you learn from the interviews? Are there things you wish the site would include or "do" that are not available?