Grant Documentation

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

The National World War II Museum (NWWIIM) led a project with National History Day (NHD), founded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to design and implement a methodology enabling video oral histories to be accessed and explored in innovative ways. Content was to 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 will address accessibility issues by:

  • Segmenting 150 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.

This project will achieve the following goals:

  1. Create a framework to allow museums and libraries to develop a meaningful metadata vocabulary for oral history collections that enables detailed querying and exploring
    By creating non-institution specific guidelines, other organizations will be able to develop vocabulary models. We will articulate how to create an initial vocabulary with the participation of stakeholders. This guidance will be used as best practices to tag and create comments, and also for museum and library staff to determine how best to incorporate end-user input.
  2. Develop a model for users to access oral history collections in a flexible and interactive Web 2.0-based environment
    A user-friendly and intuitive interface for viewing and interacting with oral histories will be developed. Users will be able to not only view histories, but also add comments and tags, that can later be incorporated into a synthesized taxonomy. The site will utilize web 2.0 technologies to create a flexible and personalizable user experience.
  3. Improve museum and library engagement with constituents
    We will demonstrate that this new way of presenting oral histories allows users to have an increased intellectual and emotional connection with the materials. Visitors can engage with oral histories by viewing, tagging and commenting, and also by creating personal collection pages. The NHD Teacher Resource Books will enable students to better use oral histories, improving their understanding of source material usage and helping to develop tomorrow’s museum audiences.