A year or so ago, I wrote an article on precisely this topic for 
Recording Magazine; it was published as "A Time to Give". It's not on 
their website, but the back issue is available from the magazine. Write 
to the editor, Mike Metlay:

[log in to unmask]

It was written when smartphone recording apps were still pretty 
rudimentary, but there's a lot of information about portable digital 
recorders, formats, AGC (thumbs down), microphones, and good practices 
for interviewing, including when the interviewer should shut up.


On 5/17/2014 6:32 PM, Tom Fine wrote:

> 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
>> Tom,
>> 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:
>>> 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 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