Down to details

You might be wondering, “Is Rachel updating from the OHA conference?!” The answer, sadly, is no. I applied for the student travel grant that Dr. G mentioned, but they never got back to me, and I just don’t have $500-$600 extra to spend out of my own pocket…so the conference is going on without me. I’m bummed about the missed opportunity, but there’s plenty to do around here to keep me busy.

For example, I’ve been reading Doing Oral History, a book Cornelia lent me. The book covers all aspects of oral history, from history and theory to starting a project to how long a tape to use during recording sessions. I haven’t yet recorded an oral history myself, but reading the book has given me ideas on how to go about it so that the material I elicit from my interviewee will be meaningful and long-lasting.

Perhaps more importantly, the book has helped me to contextualize the ROHA project within the larger oral history movement. Prior to interning with ROHA, my only experience with oral histories came to me through visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center and viewing histories recorded with Holocaust survivors. Doing Oral History emphasizes that oral histories can be collected for a variety of reasons: to preserve experiences related to an event (like the Holocaust), to preserve experiences within a particular community (like Rochester), or to preserve a single person’s life story–to name just a few. I hadn’t previously realized how widespread and diverse oral history projects are, but it makes sense, given how widespread and diverse human experience is.

I’ve also been working my way through our archive, listening to each oral history and editing the keywords linked to each oral history. The oral histories in ROHA’s database vary pretty widely in length: The longest history I’ve listened to was probably 45 minutes, while the shortest was probably 10 minutes. It’s hard to determine beforehand how long a chunk of time to set aside to listen to the oral histories, so I’ve been just jumping in and listening until my brain feels like mush.

Part of my challenge in editing keywords is that I’m not an insider–I’m not from Rochester, and my experiences in Rochester are limited. It’s hard for me to weigh the relative importance of some of the keywords, since I’m not familiar with the things or places they’re referring to. To kind of solve that problem, I’ve been trying to standardize how certain oft-used keywords appear, so that one concrete thing/place doesn’t have ten different variations of keywords assigned to it. The Older Persons Commission, for example, had about 5 different entries in the keywords, some of which were merely misspellings of “Older Persons Commission.” The Older Persons Commission is also commonly abbreviated to OPC, so what I did was standardize the entries for Older Persons Commission/OPC to “Older Persons Commission (OPC).” Hopefully the standardization will be helpful for people browsing ROHA’s database, both other outsiders who are unfamiliar with Rochester and insiders who have lived in Rochester their whole lives.

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