National Oral History Conference 2009

The National Oral History Association of New Zealand (NOHANZ) held their biennial conference in Wellington last weekend and I was fortunate to attend. The conference drew professional and amateur oral historians working in the most amazing range of areas from interviewing train drivers in Picton to former gang girls to Quakers to well known artists.
The theme was “Using Oral History in Communities” and apart from the stimulating opportunity to learn and network (for people who do a lot of listening they sure can talk!) some fascinating speakers provided great inspiration. I’ve posted about some of the highlights on the Library Blog.

I also attended a “technical day” run by the National Oral History Centre at the National Library. I think this may have been the first time the centre has really addressed the issues of digitisation as certainly 2 years ago they were still training people on analogue equipment. So there is a whole community of oral historians coming to grips with the digital age. Some are moving much faster than others but the intention of the day was “Making the best possible digital audio recordings”. Sound conservators and technicians talked about guidelines and standards, gave a technical introduction to digital audio, talked about making a good recording, choosing equipment, file management, making CDs, digital preservation and what is required for depositing recordings and related material in the Turnbull (and other archives).

The use being made of oral histories encompassed the academic and of course Maori, particularly with treaty claims, but also as a basis for books, for exhibitions and for artworks. Some people were recording their community voices or were planning to. Rather depressingly one library had brought equipment without a clear idea of how they would use it with the community. Maori are making extensive use of oral history in treaty claims research and capturing iwi traditions and they are exploring all sorts of exciting things such as recording on video, very active and outdoors recordings – i.e an interview may be conducted while walking around a marae or sitting on a beach of special significance.

Putting community voices onto the internet is a great way of sharing that digitisation makes possible and at Christchurch City Libraries we have a good example with Ti Kouka Whenua, but we also have the Library Detective and various interviews from the Auckland Writers Festival and other events. In the government sphere the resources have been poured into Te Papa for their Passports and Community Gallery but not many of the interviews recorded for those exhibitions  seem to appear on the website – they have just a few podcasts. On the other hand the VietnamWar.govt.nz site which is part of the official reconciliation with Vietnam vets is a lively example of interviews, photos, video etc which have been (and still are being solicited from the community) – it is a sort of Vietnam Kete.

I think community storytelling will benefit greatly from the advances in the digital age and give voice to people who are seldom heard, but whose so called ordinary lives are filled with the extraordinary.

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