Curating digital oral history archives is a widely discussed digital-age topic in our field. What follows is a discussion around Religions Texas’ archiving and processing method.
When we meet with the narrator for the interview, before we begin, we usually ask them to share with us a few biographical details for the metadata. We ask for their pronouns, their generation, and their religious identity. The metadata is “information about aspects of an oral history interview. It is essential for the curating, discovery, and management of a collection or interview.”
The metadata includes technical information about the interview itself (date and location of the recording, duration, recording equipment, etc.) but also biographical information about the narrator. The latter is the most likely to change from project to project. Each archive customises the metadata so that it serves the project and meets the needs of the audience for whom the collection is available. For Religions Texas we selected religious identity, city, region, and generation. We also ask for pronouns so that we can properly write the summary. When we curate online oral history archives we should consider that interviews may be misused or taken out of context, but metadata helps us take measures to protect them from the dangers of open and wide access. By including summaries, tags, technical information about the interview and details about the narrator we frame the interview within the contemporary historical context.
To help researchers we also include tags. We use tags as keywords to identify topics discussed during the interview. For example, these are the tags for Sarah Elsunni — a Sudanese-American digital marketer.
Interviews within our oral history project may discuss topics that some may find difficult to listen to. We would like the archive to be a space where researchers can engage comfortably, empathetically, and thoughtfully with difficult content. Therefore, we have also implemented a system of content and trigger warnings to flag potentially disturbing material discussed in the interviews, so readers and listeners can prepare themselves to adequately engage or, if necessary, disengage for their own wellbeing.
In general, our processing system is quite straightforward: once the interview is done we use otter.ai — an online AI transcriber system — to get a first draft of the transcription, then our archive coordinators audit-edit the interview. After the transcription is completed we send the transcript over to the narrator to review. This is a time for narrators to see whether they wish to edit parts out or annotate some sections of the interview. Once we hear back from them, and make sure we have their consent, we are ready to publish the interview on our website. Oral histories at Religions Texas are double deposited at the University of Texas Libraries — Texas Scholars Works.
Recently we have been hosting listening parties to share our collections with a wider audience. So far we have hosted a listening party for Muslim Voices and one for Corona Chronicles. During the events we play 2–3 minute audio-clips extracted from our interviews. We encourage discussion and offer space for the audience to ask us questions about our archive and collection. We will be hosting more in the following months — if you’re interested in participating, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we post updates about events, workshops, and details about our rich and ever-growing collections and archive.