Documenting and accessing Oral History Data

Documenting and accessing Oral History Data

1. Introduction: Transcription, Documentation & Metadata

Documenting and accessing the content of oral history interviews presents two particular (related) challenges which are perhaps less likely to be experienced with text-based history research:

  1. Linking together varied kinds of data
  2. Access to audio/video data

Firstly, doing oral history creates a varied range of different objects (some of which may include sensitive personal information) that need to be documented, made findable, and linked together. The second challenge relates to documenting the content of interview media files in order to facilitate access to them: it is more difficult, for example, to quickly search audio/video data than text, or to analyse it for themes and meaning.

This discussion intentionally avoids making a sharp distinction between interview "content" and "documentation" (or "data" and "metadata") in focusing on access to interviews. A transcription of an interview may be viewed as a detailed form of documentation, which facilitates access to the "real" interview content. On the other hand, transcripts have often been used and preserved quite independently of interview recordings, and treated as data in their own right. However, digital oral history is opening up new possibilities for enhancing - or even replacing - traditional forms of textual documentation of interview content.