Oral History and Public History

Mark Souther

Over at Public History Commons, Mark Souther, the director of the Public History and Digital Humanities program at Cleveland State University, makes a few suggestions for turning an oral history project into a public history project.  Here is a taste:

To sustain broader public engagement, an oral history project can:
  1. Make collected content easily discoverable. This may be accomplished through timely processing and online dissemination of raw interviews. It may also occur through the sharing of clipped highlight stories featured either in stand-alone form or as part of a curated web/mobile exhibition alongside other media.
  2. Invite interaction. In addition to arranging public programs, a project might engage the public by enabling social media sharing, viewer comments and replies, or other “calls to action” that encourage user contributions of additional items, like family photographs or home movies or (self-)nominations for future interviews.
  3. Make the collection reusable. Doing so entails not only sharing it online but also doing so on terms that invite myriad uses, such as with a Creative Commons license.
Oral history becomes public history when it is shaped into living, public-facing projects. At the same time, oral history recordings and transcripts will likely outlast even a “living project” and therefore promise future opportunities for public histories that we cannot yet imagine. 

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