Digital History — Spring 2010

March 4, 2010

Questions for Professor Gould…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ths117 @ 8:47 pm

Dear Professor Gould,

It’s nice to see that the Oral History Association’s General Principles and Best Practices for Oral History recommend a “lead” that would address some of the questions about metadata ( location, date, “publisher”, etc) that we’ve been talking about with reference to more conventional texts. However, I’m curious about the challenges of recording what you might consider the non-textual metadata particular to oral history — things like posture, fidgeting, gaze, emotion, expression, eye contact — in short, body language rather than just spoken words. This is particularly interesting to me in terms of indexing and searchability of non-textual elements. I have a friend who’s in a class about the politics of emotion right now, and I would imagine that a search function that enabled him to search for tears or laughter in a repository of oral histories would be tremendously useful!

Of course, I can also see some  issues arising from the attempt to index this sort of data — the role of the interviewer in interpreting/codifying the source’s body language, particularly through the filter of age, physical debility, or cultural difference, could get very subjective or judgmental. Nonetheless, it seems like an important aspect to consider when thinking about making these texts available! Anyway, I would be very curious to hear your thoughts about the usefulness of this type of data: how you’ve interpreted it sensitively within the context of your own work, and/or how you envision the interaction of digital access and oral history.


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