Parts & Wholes

I am fascinated with the problems associated with visualizing oral history, which I blogged about, and which is part of my contribution to the Oral History in the Digital Age project.

As I have mulled this problem, I have increasingly realized that the digital revolution presents a problem for oral historians that problematizes the oral history as the unit of analysis. Increasingly, we parse, divide, tag, and work with oral histories as a small collection of discreet pieces or clips. This surely is an appropriate way to work with oral history, but has just as surely altered how we think about oral history as a unit of analysis. This transformation has generated a host of new tools, such as Ohms at the University of Kentucky. It has also become the way that public historians are using oral history, as in Cleveland Historical.

I would like to consider examples of projects in both the archiving and exhibition of oral history and engage in a discussion of what this implies about professional practice in the digital age.

About mtebeau

Twitter: @@urbanhumanist
In 2008, THATCamp helped me remake and reimagine my scholarship as a digital humanist; have been involved) and have been involved ever since (helping host/organize THATCamp Columbus). I am back for more reinvention. <br. I've already invented a bio on the web ( and am engaged in multiple research, teaching, and learning projects. At the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities ( we've built Cleveland Historical (, a mobile app for curating cities (or museums or ...) through interpretive humanities narratives, which is an instance of our larger Mobile Historical project, an open-source tool for simultaneous mobile/web curation and digital storytelling. The cool thing about it is that Omeka functions as the underlying CMS, deployed into mobile environments and tricked out with new plug-ins, themes, and such. As well as all the issues related to curating cities, I am increasingly curious about the process of reinventing practice, theory, and the humanities for the digital age. More specifically, in the context of my research into cities, landscape, and place, I have become deeply curious and strangely inarticulate about how our digital work has shaped and reinvented the physical landscapes around us. Does the digital alter the experience of the landscape? As I curate a city am I contributing to its decline as an experience, a lived human place? In some sense, am I not doing something like Czech nationalists of the 19th century, inventing heroes, such as Zaboj and Slavoj, and memorializing them in stone in an attempt to recreate the social and political world? Am I not engaged in this same sort of endeavor when I talk of curating the city digitally--using the virtual to make the loss of the loss and degradation of the physical landscape seem somehow natural and tolerable? Reinvention is the work of the digital humanities in so many domains, and I want to continue that journey in the lovely informality of an unconference. All posts by mtebeau →

3 Responses to Parts & Wholes

  1. Arjun Sabharwal says:

    A session on this aspect of oral history should be very interesting. Breaking larger oral histories into smaller unit has many advantages: you can tag smaller units more accurately with geospatial data (I have not worked with Ohms, so I will be interested in what it can do), and you can leave out sections that might pose ethical issues such as privacy, and legal issues caused by libel and slander, which can occur in interviews. Thanks for the topic!

  2. As I remarked in my session proposal post, this is an important discussion that flows naturally into ideas of essential information (metadata) about oral history in a digital milieu. We are smack in the middle of a project that is working around these issues!

  3. lauren.kata says:

    I’m interested in this session as well. What are our responsibilities to the interviewees/subjects when we break apart their narrative – how much freedom can we allow ourselves before intention and meaning are too altered?

    Many thanks!