This abbreviated project abstract is from our newest participant, Jeanne Kessler of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. She hopes to discuss the project and/or some of its accessibility issues on Wednesday.

Bringing Oral Histories to Life – Unlocking the Power of the Spoken Word

The National World War II Museum (NWWIIM) is leading a project with National History Day (NHD) to design and implement a methodology enabling video oral histories to be accessed and explored in innovative ways. Content will be made available to a wider audience, who will have the ability to participate in describing and referencing oral histories in a manner not currently possible.

Conventionally, video oral histories have been organized and accessed via unit-level metadata focused on finding an individual interview within a collection. This is equivalent to having access to a book, but not an index of the passages where particular themes or topics are discussed. In oral history collection management, there has been little sub-unit access to content within and across interviews. Additionally, cumbersome large unit auditing is time consuming, resulting in the major underutilization of oral histories. Digitization and new tools make media access possible, but the absence of clear models and approaches has been a major obstacle to wider use of oral history collections. The challenge is less technological than intellectual and conceptual.

In a 3-year project, beginning in October, 2009, the NWWIIM is addressing accessibility issues by:

  • Segmenting 200 digitized oral histories from World War II veterans and indexing each segment using a descriptive vocabulary. This will enable access within and across interviews, which is critical for thematic exploration of oral history collections.
  • Users can access the histories in a flexible environment where exploration, tagging and annotating can be performed.  Users will be able to view and retrieve oral history segments by searching on ‘factual’ descriptors such as “D-Day” or querying thematic/abstract concepts such as “courage” or “weather”. User-added tags applied to segments will add personal meaning to the interview. This provides an interaction not currently available, and broadens search options when exploring oral history collections.
  • By synthesizing professional and user-driven vocabularies, the project will consolidate what has been learned by using each method, to produce a working model of broad relevance and utility. Beyond its significance for World War II collections, the project will provide guidelines and models enabling greater accessibility and interactivity to other oral history collections.