Janneken Smucker is an Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University where she specializes in digital and public history and material culture. She is also president of the board of the Quilt Alliance, a national non-profit dedicated to documenting, preserving, and sharing the stories of quilts and quiltmakers. Smucker will be leading the workshop Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits on Wednesday, October 12, at the OHA annual meeting. For more information see Workshops.
For a couple of years when I was first out of graduate school I worked as a content specialist at a web and interactive firm specializing in projects for museums and cultural heritage organizations. I was spoiled: I worked with a team of designers, programmers, and information architects to craft custom solutions for our clients, including several projects with an oral history component. These boutique tools worked great. But they were a bit like re-inventing the wheel every time a client needed a solution. And like everything else in the digital age, they will eventually become out of date and the funds that were once available to create the projects might not be available for an upgrade when the time comes.
When I reentered academia as a professor specializing in digital history, I experienced culture shock. At my regional state university, I did not have a team of professionals helping me create projects with my students. And I did not have a budget. I had me, and my students. With this rude awakening, I realized my students and I needed to be our own designers, programmers, and information architects, in addition to developing content for our classroom projects. Thankfully, many free and low-cost tools—many of them open source—exist that allow us to share our great content in engaging ways that do not require a team of tech professionals to implement. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel—or have an enormous budget—in order to effectively curate and share oral histories.
In my upcoming OHA workshop, Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits, we’ll explore some of these tools that are well-suited to sharing, repurposing, and enlivening your oral history assets. Maybe you’d like to curate a selection of your oral history interviews as an online exhibit. Perhaps you or your organization have discovered the joys of indexing with OHMS, but don’t know how to effectively share an index on your website. Maybe you want to add audio excerpts from interviews to a map or timeline, or as hotspots on an image. You can still feature full audio and transcripts from your archive, but finding ways to further curate and interpret these materials in engaging ways using easy-to-use tools can make your oral histories have further reach and greater impact on your audiences.