“Collecting in the Digital Age”: An Overview
By Charles Hardy and Doug Boyd
Today, digital technologies offer a multitude of audio and video recording options in a broad range of prices for people recording oral history interviews. Portable digital field recorders enable much higher quality recording—with wider audio dynamic range, less noise, and higher resolution video–than the old analog open-reel and cassette audio recorders and tape-based video recorders that are rapidly becoming commercially obsolete. We have now reached the point where scholars, archivists, folklorists, and others recording oral history interviews no longer need to sacrifice recording quality for convenience and cost.
Another clear development is the need to expand collecting practices beyond the recording of the spoken-word interview in oral history fieldwork. It is essential to provide guidance in interviewing techniques that will supply those authoring in digital media with both the best possible interviews and the digital still, sound, and moving image documents needed for media-rich documentation and dissemination.
Effective field work in the digital age requires broader information gathering and documentation in the collecting phase of a project. For the purposes of the museums, libraries, and archives that will house, preserve, and interpret oral history interviews in the digital age, it is essential to understand the differences and similarities among the broad range of communities that record oral history interviews and how the digital revolution is converging common needs and concerns. The diverse range of collecting communities, each with its own methodology and standards, already includes oral historians, documentary producers, journalists, museum professionals, genealogists, and ethnographers- including folklorists, anthropologists, sociologists, and ethnomusicologists.
The way to rethink effective field work is through a blending of collecting methodologies that draw on the greatest strengths of each collecting community. From oral history, for example, we need to maintain and build off of the emphasis on the importance of extensive historical research before the interview, the responsibility to record for future researchers whose interests will differ from the specific goals of the oral history project, and the time-intensive, collaborative interviewing that enables interviewer and narrator to explore subjects in great depth.
Drawing from folklore, we need to emphasize how oral history collection in the digital age should expand the focus from “interviewing” to “fieldwork,” broaden the location of the interview into the community contexts within which they are performed, and shift focus from the preparation of the interview for deposit to the creation of ethnographic field collections- what Tim Lloyd calls, “multi-format, unpublished groups of materials documenting human life and traditions”- that were created, gathered, and organized by the researcher (See Tim Lloyd). From the sound and moving image documentarians we should draw upon the skill sets needed to create multi-format recordings/documents that are as close as possible in quality to the natural sound and visual events that they capture and that are created specifically for authoring in digital media rather than in the written word. These skill sets include interviewing techniques developed for broadcast use of interviews and narratives that are not part of the training for collectors in other communities.
Underlying this section is the belief that today interviewers must also serve as initial curators of digital content. Metadata provided by fieldworkers is crucial to interviews getting “item level” description when transferred to an archive. Interviews collected today can be accessible on the Internet this evening. Within minutes of being uploaded, interview metadata is being crawled by search engines. This, too, has serious implications for collecting oral histories in the digital age.
Oral history interviewing and methodology has always been inextricably linked to recording technologies. Analog recording technologies created a medium that was machine dependent for playback and access. Digital technologies, although also machine dependent, have created multiple new pathways to interviews. Networked computing, Internet browsers, and search engines now insure that interviews once fated for archival shelves and limited access through print publication can now be discovered in seconds and accessed globally.
The essays and resources below are meant to assist oral historians making the transition from analog to digital recording- as well as digital thinking. They include a short primer on digital audio and video; advice on choosing a digital recorder and microphone(s) within one’s budget; an introduction to basic digital recording concepts and techniques; and case studies that can provide some insight into project organization in the digital age, ethical concerns for interviewers, and one practitioner’s decision to record exclusively with video.
Citation for Article
Boyd, D. A., & Hardy, C. (2012). Collecting in the digital age: an overview. In D. Boyd, S. Cohen, B. Rakerd, & D. Rehberger (Eds.), Oral history in the digital age. Institute of Library and Museum Services. Retrieved from http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/collecting-in-the-digital-age/.
Boyd, Douglas A., and Charles Hardy. “Collecting in the Digital Age: An Overview,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/collecting-in-the-digital-age/
This is a production of the Oral History in the Digital Age Project (http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu) sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Please consult http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/about/rights/ for information on rights, licensing, and citation.