My thoughts on Best Practices have to do more with the technical end of things, how can we teach
people to show up at an oral history interview and get the most usable, most useful audio. I can
tell you for a fact that putting a cassette recorder on a table, at some distance from an
interviewee, in a room with air conditioning or other background noise, is non-ideal. So the next
step is, what can we do differently, in a modern context, which most likely involves digital
recording? In some ways, a "smart phone" or similar device can be vastly superior to an old cassette
recorder, especially a cassette recorder with an external microphone in nervous amateur recordist
hands. But, those in the business of collecting oral histories need to educate the collectors. I
think ARSC can help in this. Even if it's just giving basic conceptws of successful audio recording.
Ideally, someone (LOC? Story Corps? A university? ARSC?) should develop an app for smart phone
devices that leads an amateur recordist through proper techniques to set the recorder in a good
place and lead a subject not used to talking into a recorder through their stories and observations.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Hugh Paterson III" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, May 17, 2014 4:01 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Collections of oral histories
> You are correct to note that there is quite a variation available through collections at folk
> archives. Some of my linguistics colleagues use these collections when measuring language shift
> and the sounds of language dialects in American English. One of the professors here at the
> University of Oregon has just received a grant for documenting the voices of Oregon. However, I am
> interested more in non-English content. In a US context this might be Native American folk stories
> in Navajo, Cree, Blackfoot, or Cherokee, etc.
> What you say about personal areas of expertise it exactly true, this is something that field
> linguists and language documenters must keep in mind. To get a wide variety of words in a language
> and their breadth of meaning, one needs to work with several speakers who each have different
> personal areas of expertise. Often this means visiting them in the location of where they do what
> they do, i.e. painters in the studio, mechanics in the car shop, pilots in the plane, etc. I had a
> friend who once told me, to get a story, be prepared to tell a story. It was his observation that
> if one tells a story, and does it first, that often the others in the group would feel obligated
> to tell a story. Then in that moment be ready with the voice recorder....
> - Hugh
> BTW: I would be interested to know more about what you mean by best practices, are you talking
> about collection curation and item level description, or digitization, or about practices of
> collection? This is what I do... as a linguist, only with non-English languages.
> On May 17, 2014, at 12:34 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>> Hi Hugh:
>> This is tangential to your quest but may help. I did a massive transfer job a few years ago for
>> Poets House in NYC:
>> www.poetshouse.org. Unfortunately, due to copyright laws, you need to visit the site to hear the
>> massive audio archive, but there is a ton of recorded poetry there, dating back to the 78 era.
>> It's mostly American and British poets, but you get the full run of English dialects from the
>> early 20th Century up to the 1990s.
>> I also just completed a massive transfer job of oral histories for a U.S. state. I'll tell more
>> about it when the audio is in the database and accessible online. In that collection, you get
>> mainly the southwestern US dialects from the 20th century generations.
>> Also, Vermont has a folklore archive, which I assume includes oral histories and the various New
>> England dialects.
>> One interesting side road to your quest could be advertising audio from the early days of radio
>> onward. I think these examples demonstrate both what is considered "Generic" American English as
>> well as regional dialects and terminologies for local ads. Many OTR transcriptions contain the
>> syndicated ads, but I think local radio statiions also inserted local ad copy. There is a large
>> quantity of TV advertising available on YouTube and iTunes (at no cost).
>> It's also worth search archive.org. You never know what's up there because they don't have the
>> greatest self-promoting system.
>> By the way, if we on the ARSC List want to start a discussion of oral history Best Practices, I'd
>> love to hear from others. I've transferred many cassette-tape oral histories and have had to
>> mitigate pretty much all the wrong practices, but in the digital age, I think we should discuss
>> the better ways to do it, especially using "smart phones" and similar devices. One thing that
>> transferring 1000+ oral histories over the years has taught me -- most people have at least one
>> good story and most people have deep knowledge about at least one thing. Get them engaged about
>> that keystone topic, and it's like turning on a switch. It never fails to amaze and impress me.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Hugh Paterson III" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Saturday, May 17, 2014 2:00 PM
>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Collections of oral histories
>>> I am looking for audio archives with significant oral histories, oral texts, or wordlist,
>>> holdings. I am particularly looking for non-english language holdings, and dark archives (where
>>> listings are not complete or listings are not available online). Two summers ago I presented a
>>> paper on language documentation and I was discussing the fragile nature of audio language
>>> artifacts. Several people told me that there were places in Europe and Russia with significant
>>> recordings either on wax cylinders or other non-digital mediums but I fail find these
>>> institutions via google searches (partially because I don't remember the names).
>>> Any ideas as to which museums or archives might have these sorts of recordings?
>>> - Hugh Paterson III