Category Archives: Databases

Data Storage Decisions

My task this semester, as last semester, has been to geocode the museums of the world by entering data into excel. Not only are we recording each museum’s coordinates, we are also writing a short description of each site. Now that I have figured out my work flow, I’ve started to think about how I’m entering data, rather they the mechanics of what I’m doing. Particularly, I’ve been thinking about why we’re using Excel rather than database software.

During the course work portion of the Digital Public Humanities, we touched upon databases when we covered metadata. At my job, I’ve continued to learn about databases, and one of the first things my boss told me is that excel is not a database. A user can’t query information or show relationships among data. I was surprised to hear this, because every data entry job I’be ever had used Excel.  I scheduled exams using this software as an undergraduate, and cataloged artifacts with it in graduate school. Shortly thereafter, he taught me to use Access, and I understood the difference. Access is a relational database, and it is much easier to find information in Access than in Excel, especially when I’m using multiple fields. I find it easier to find an specific entry I’m looking for, or sort by multiple criteria. I think this kind of functionality would be useful for the Conflict Cultures project.

The goal of the Conflict Cultures project is not just have a list of coordinates and museum names, but to facilitate research. I think it would be helpful to sort the data by multiple criteria.  Relating the data via liked tables would be the best way. I think the location data could be stored in one table, and the textual descriptive data in another. They would be linked by a table containing the museum names and country codes. Arranging the data like this would allow for looking at the data in multiple ways. For example, it may be interesting to know where museums are located in proximity to capital cities. First the museums could be sorted by country, then by proximity to a coordinate taken from the center of a city.

There is certainly good reason to use Excel for the Conflict Cultures project, however. First, there is great potential to use this data in GIS spatial analysis. By entering the data all in one table, it can be imported in ArcGIS and read as a point shape file. Once in Arc, the data table can be sorted by multiple fields and further manipulated. Second, most people have access to Excel, which is an important criteria since this project is collaborative. Although we used Google Docs last semester, Excel is compatible with ArcMap and other GIS software.

In thinking about these issues, I keep coming back to a key concept I learned from my second semester in the Digital Public Humanities coursework. When creating any data collection project, the developer must be conscious of how the end user want to use it. Although, in my opinion, a relational database is better for sorting and accessing data, Excel is probably the better option for this project. The end user is most likely going to use our data table in GIS, and Excel would be easier to import into GIS.


Review: Oral History Online


Launched in April 2004, Oral History Online (ORHI) has undertaken the daunting task of indexing English language oral histories from collections and repositories all over the world. Among many excited oral historians, Michael Frisch and his colleagues wrote that ORHI, “… offers a rich mix in both cataloging and indexing tools, and has real power in this regard.”1 Updated quarterly, the initial 7,000 interviews from 850 collections has grown to 18,421 interviews from over 2,700 collections, many with full text transcriptions and indexes greater than 4,200 audio and video files.

Search: Users are able to search using several tools. Subscribers may browse the Table of Contents, divided into “Repositories,” “Collections,” “Interviews,” “Date,” “Places,” “Historical Events,” and “All Subjects,”  which allows for serendipitous discoveries.  Under the “Find Collections” tab, users can search through metadata to find collections relevant to their interests. The “Find Interviews” tab provides the same functionality for interviews, with the option to keyword search full-text where available. The results of these searches are not always fully accessible through the database. Some interviews link to external sources and some are housed within repositories or collections which themselves require subscriptions or for the researcher to physically visit the archive.

Digitization of Material: Oral History Online does not digitize any material. Rather, the database indexes records of previously digitized interviews housed by other institutions. Where possible, ORHI provides full-text transcriptions and links to audio and visual material; none of these resources were produced by ORHI, thus copyright of the material belongs to the home institutions.


Date Range: 1930-2008

Publisher: Alexander Street Press

Publisher About Page:

Object Type: Oral Histories, Transcriptions, Audio, Video

Location of Original Material: Various repositories and collections, public and private, throughout the world.

Exportable Image: Not applicable

Facsimile Image: Not applicable

Full Text Searchable: Yes

Titles List Links:





Original Catalog: Various. The original catalogs are house in the collections and repositories Oral History Online has drawn from which can be found under the “Repositories” and “Collections” tabs under the “Table of Contents”.

Digitized from Microfilm: No. Many interviews were digitized from interview tapes and records. Some were born digital.

Original Sources: The collections and repositories ORHI indexes. These range from repositories at major institutes such as universities and museums to collections of small communities.


Frisch, Michael, Jennifer Abraham, Jeff Suchanek, and Pamela Dean. “Oral History Online.” The Oral History Review 32, no. 2 (2005): 89-100. JSTOR:

Speer, L.K. “Oral History Online.” Choice Reviews vol. 43 no. 12 (2006). Choice Reviews:

Henson, Pamela M. “Oral History Online.” The Journal of American History 92, no. 1 (2005): 32. JSTOR:

LaGuardia, Cheryl. “ORAL HISTORY ONLINE.” Library Journal 129, no. 10 (June 2004): 39-40. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost:


Alexander Street offers institutional and personal access through subscription. Pricing in negotiated on a case-by-case basis and is not advertised.2 A free 30-day trail is available.

Info from Publisher:

ORHI’s “Help” page offers a “Guided Tour” and in depth information about the available search tools.  The “About” page includes copyright information and technical support contacts.

Other Info:

Copyright: Users should be aware that much of ORHI’s content is not public domain and that copy right may be owned by the indexed institutions- and in many cases those institutions do not own the copyright. Under the “Details” of individual interviews there is occasionally a “Restrictions” field that describes the copy right status of the item.

Accessing Interviews: ORHI is a powerful discovery tool, however the database often does not offer direct access to indexed interviews. Where possible, audio files, full-text transcriptions and video are accessible, but much of the content is exclusively housed in the original repositories and catalogs.


The “Details” tab of interviews supplies the metadata necessary for major citation styles such as MLA, APA and Chicago.  In  addition to citing the interview itself, be sure to cite Oral History Online as well.

 1 “Oral History Online,” Frisch, Michael, Jennifer Abraham, Jeff Suchanek, and Pamela Dean. The Oral History Review 32, no. 2 (2005): 90.JSTOR:
2 According to L.K. Speer’s 2006 Choice Reviews article, subscriptions run between $350 and $3,990. See citation under “Reviews.”
NOTE: The format for this review used Beyond Citation: as a template.