A group of enthusiastic oral historians met at the The Moat cafe bar on 15 August for OHV’s second Ideas and Skills Exchange. It was a great chance for newcomers to talk about the issues we are facing in our oral history work, and to share ideas and advice. By happy coincidence it was ‘happy hour’ at the Moat so drinks were half price!
State Library Fellow Deborah McKay talked about her new project creating audio documentaries from State Library interviews with WW1 veterans recorded by Patsy Adam-Smith in the 1970s – several of us could share our own experiences of working with Patsy’s extraordinary interviews (including an interview in which the old digger proposed marriage to the feisty Patsy!). Ron Lambert from the La Trobe Valley explained his oral history PhD about the introduction of new technology in the Gippsland timber industry in the 1970s. Judy Hughes was very pleased to relax in good company after successfully completing her Masters dissertation using oral history to track the experience of Melbourne journalists from 1975. OHV Treasurer Jodie Boyd was seeking advice about a paper she is writing about her experience of being an interviewee – and how to write a reflective and critical account of an interview in a way that is both sensitive and analytical. Facilitator Al Thomson chipped in with advice while realising how he learns more about oral history every time a colleague shares their experience of creating and working with oral history interviews.
The next OHV Ideas and Skills Exchange will be on Tuesday 14 November, 5:30 – 6:30 at The Moat cafe bar (176 Little Lonsdale St, near the State Library). Facilitated by OHV President Al Thomson, this is a great opportunity for members to meet up and share current or upcoming oral history projects, and to get advice about any challenges you are facing. Please visit the event page for more information.
Review by Carissa Goudey
The OHV Annual Symposium kicked off the Queen’s Birthday weekend (10 June 2017) with an engaging and topical series of presentations. From websites to apps to hard drives, this year’s Symposium explored the many opportunities and challenges facing oral historians in the digital age.
After an introduction from OHV President Al Thomson, we ventured into the world of online oral history with Judy Hughes (Monash University). Considering the sheer scale of material that oral historians collect – interview recordings, photographs, primary research – Judy advocated websites as a fantastic way to curate and present oral history projects. She demonstrated how websites and web-based applications allow oral historians to produce high-quality, accessible histories at little to no cost, and without the need for purchasing extra equipment. The following discussion, led by Rachel Goldlust (LaTrobe University), presented a complementary vision of the internet’s role in oral history. Drawing on her PhD research into homesteaders, Rachel argued the importance of face-to-face interviews and their associated reciprocal benefits.
Judy Hughes presenting at the 2017 Symposium.
Rachael Goldlust presenting at the 2017 Symposium.
The first half of the morning was rounded off with a presentation from Al Thomson, with two exciting developments from the Australian Generations Oral History Project: the recent publication of Australian Lives: An Intimate History, and the digitisation of its interview recordings on Trove. As a group, we listened to one interview while reading the edited version – an exercise which reinforced the dual qualities of readability and human connection in oral history.
Al Thomson presenting at the 2017 Symposium.
John Francis presenting at the 2017 Symposium.
After a short break, John Francis spoke on the changing face of technology in oral history work, as well as the finer points of location, sound quality and shot composition. John thrilled us with his personal collection of recording equipment, which ranged from a Tandberg portable tape recorder to his handy iPhone 7 Plus. This caused great excitement for those who recalled the older tech, as well as for those who had only seen them in museums! Following John, André Dao presented his new book, They Cannot Take the Sky, produced with Michael Green from the Behind the Wire project. André shared his experiences interviewing people formerly and currently in detention, highlighting the inherent risks in undertaking such a task. His discussion of political refugees detained on Manus Island was particularly moving, and emphasised the need for discretion when publishing interview content.
André Dao presented on his book “They Cannot Take the Sky” co-edited with Michael Green, Angelica Neville, Dana Affleck & Sienna Merope.
Mike Jones delivered the keynote address: Preservation, presentation, and possibility: oral histories in a complex age at the 2017 symposium.
The Symposium ended with a fascinating talk from our keynote speaker, Mike Jones, on digital preservation (University of Melbourne and Museums Victoria). After hearing from so many amazing oral history projects – each incorporating different technologies – Mike reminded us of the importance of staying ahead of the technology game. Backing up work on external hard drives, and regularly replacing those hard drives, were just a couple of his suggestions for ensuring longevity of interview recordings and accompanying digital material.
It was a captivating and inspiring day for all who attended, and testimony to the generosity and passion of the oral history community.
Some of the speakers have made their presentation available which can be accessed below.
Keynote: Mike Jones (Consultant Research Archivist, University of Melbourne, Research Associate, Museum Victoria, Freelance Archival Consultant): Preservation, presentation, and possibility: oral histories in a complex age.
Rachel Goldlust: Digital homesteading and oral history, what can oral history provide that the internet can’t?
Judy Hughes: Using websites in oral history