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.

A Guide to Digitization

Purpose: To provide a brief guide to digitization that will be utilized in this blog.

Underlying Assumptions: Digitization is the process by which material is reproduced in digital formats.  This guide was written with the understanding that no digital copy replaces the original object. Digitization creates a facsimile of the original and information is lost in the process.  Therefore, the first guideline is that the original should be handled as little as possible and stored as if no digital copy exists.

Digitizing Material: Almost anything can be digitized in one form or another, but not every element of the original object can be captured. The elements that can be captured in digitalization include:

  • Visual elements such as color, scale, dimensions and shape
  • Auditory elements
  • Movement

Elements that cannot be captured in digitalization include:

  • Sensory elements such as smell, texture, weight and taste
  • How the viewer would experience the original- for example magnitude and environment

Digitization is inherently project specific. Not every element capable of being captured is possible in every format. The project leader must make decisions about what elements need to be captured and which can be left out based upon the project. The project goals will determine which digital forms make the most sense for the objects being digitized. Some generalizations, however, can be made. For flat objects such as photographs and documents JPEG, GIF or TIFF formats are well suited for communicating visual information. Multi-dimensional objects such as sculptures and cultural heritage artifacts can be 3D scanned, although at this time 3D scanners are often prohibitively costly. These materials can also be photographed from several points of perspective and saved as JPEG, GIF or TIFF files. A final solution is to create of .mov or mp4 file by rotating a video camera around the object. The limitations of the last two options is that the viewer cannot manipulate the resulting digital product as much as a 3D scan. Audio can be transcribed into a PDF, which would be ideal for a project concerned with the content of the audio only. Projects which seek to explore auditory characteristics would find mp3 files useful. Performances or other objects for which movement is essential would benefit from .mov or mp4 files.

The digitization of material can be broken into four steps, and at each step the project leader must make decisions using the project goals as a guide.

  1. The Object is Captured in Digital Format
    • Decisions:
      • Which hardware to use
      • What conditions are necessary to reach minimum standard requirements (codified before the start of the project)
      • What information is the most important
  2. Import the Digital File
    • Decisions:
      • Name of the file
      • Location of the file
  3. Digital Manipulation
    • Decisions:
      • How much manipulation is necessary for the necessary information to be conveyed
      • What file formats will best deliver this information
      • What metadata can be extracted
      • How will this metadata be presented (if any)
  4. Storage of the Digital Artifact
    • Decisions
      • Creation of a Master File and publicly accessible files
      • Location of files

The Impact of Digitalization: The act of digitalization changes the way in which objects are understood. Digitalization is a wonderful tool for making material available to a bigger audience, and more voices change how material is understood. The digitizer should be aware that the object is not being digitized as though it magically turns into ones and zeros to live on a server. Rather, a digital copy is made, and this copy is incomplete at that.  A JPEG of a wallet-sized photo is a good copy because the viewer sees the object much in the same way he or she would view the photo in life. A 3D model of Stonehenge, however detailed, will never completely capture the magnitude of the structure on a standard computer screen. A digital copy fundamentally changes an individual’s understanding of the object by focusing on some elements and silencing others as a part of the digitization process.

Digitalization does open opportunities for users to transform the object. Sculptors could never make new arms for the real “Venus de Milo”, but they might using 3D modeling software. Users can change a textual document into speech and speech into text. Stills can be extracted from digitized film. Digitalization allows for the copy to be changed in ways the original might be incapable of and without harming the original.


Perseus Digital Library- a Creative Commons Resource

Name of website: Perseus Digital Library


url to rights statement:

Material available on this site: Perseus offers under CC-BY-SA license transcriptions and translations of text in Greek, Latin, Germanic, Arabic, English and Italian texts.

Prelinger Archives- A Creative Commons Resource

Name of Website: Prelinger Archives


url of rights statement:

Material Available on this Site: The Prelinger Archives offers CC-0, that is Creative Commons Public Domain, films. These films come from a variety of sources such as home videos, company training videos and advertising.

NASA-GRIN: A Public Domain Source

Name of Website: NASA on the Commons


url of rights statement:

Material Available on this Site: Formerly GReat Images in NASA (NASA-GRIN), the site has been relocated to Flikr as “NASA on the Commons.” Historic High-quality images of NASA are available, free of use.

A Definition of Digital Humanities

Practitioners1 of Digital Humanities, like those of Humanities, are interested in answering questions about the human condition. To this end, they utilize, create, and analyze digital materials2.  Technology, particularly that which creates or interprets digital information,3 is foundational to the field, both as tools for investigation and objects of study. The results of such efforts are often presented in digital form.

1 I think anyone engaged with the creation of a DH project can be considered a “Digital Humanist” on some level- perhaps not as professional Digital Humanists or Digital Humanities scholars, but people who contribute to DH projects by transcribing documents, uploading data, and the like are still part of the community.
2 Digital materials are images, text, data, code or anything that is accessible only through a computer (whether that computer be a desktop, tablet, gaming platform, wristwatch and so on).
3 I consider technology to be hardware and software. The technology pertinent to Digital Humanities is, obviously, that with a digital component.

My definition of Digital Humanities is influenced heavily by how I have seen the field operate in my academic and professional life in addition to definitions produced by the members of the field. I am an archaeologist by training, so when I think of DH, I think of how I can utilize the methods and theory in my research. GIS, interactive reconstructions, digital archives, database construction and online exhibits are just a few examples of what I think of as concretely Digital Humanities. So, when I think of a definition, I admittedly think of these types of projects, which are primarily electronic products. Stephen Ramsay’s “DH Types One and Two”1 made me aware of the coding concerns of Digital Humanists that I had not considered and tried to include in my definition. I also found Melissa Terras helpful in shaping my definition. Her talk, “Peering Inside the Big Tent: Digital Humanities and the Crisis of Inclusion,”2 made me sensitive to the debate in DH concerning who is and is not a Digital Humanist, and what is and is not DH. I don’t feel comfortable at this point in my study to definitively say who and what is not part of DH, so I consciously formulated my definition the other direction. I expect, and hope, that my definition will change as I grow to know the field better.

1 Stephen Ramsay (blog), 2013.
2 Melissa Terras (blog), July 26, 2011