Multimedia and Digital Storytelling: My Yorkshire and Cork Folklore Project

14 Feb

New digital methods and communication modes, especially those that are free and open source, provide opportunities for increased oral history access beyond the library shelf. For example, this afternoon my downtown Indianapolis apartment rang with voices from across the Atlantic after two simple clicks. I listened to Hornsea, United Kingdom native Muriel Berzins describe working in the Land Army picking potatoes and sugar beets during World War II and Bernie McLoughlin recollect spending his adolescence swimming in the Tramore River outside Cork, Ireland. These oral histories came from two digital projects in the UK and Ireland, My Yorkshire and the Cork Folklore Project. These projects show how digital tools and communication platforms are transforming traditional oral history practice. Instead of simply producing primary source documents, oral historians are increasingly participating in collaborative projects that produce highly-curated digital experiences that illustrate local experiences to a globalized audience.

Digital tools are changing the way oral history projects are born and managed. Traditionally, a researcher interviews a narrator using some sort of audio recording device and deposits the resulting audio and transcript into an archival repository. An archivist then provides access to a number of interested researchers, who interpret the oral history in a scholarly publication. However, low cost digital tools used increasingly to conduct, edit, and document oral histories can now be accessed by a wide range of people. This democratizing quality allows oral history projects to involve a large network of institutions and everyday Internet users. Instead of having a lone, well-funded researcher or institution slowly build a collection of oral histories, a partnership comprised of a variety of institutions, history and IT professionals, and community members can create a smartly designed platform to collect oral histories Internet users create themselves. For example, the Occupational Folklife Project hosted by the Library of Congress provides a means for anyone with a computer to record interviews with American workers “in all sectors of the economy and in communities across the United States.” Project employees developed a list of core interview questions, a release form, and a simple cataloguing template to capture pertinent metadata to guide interviewers. Interviewers also learned how to upload their oral histories to the project’s specially designed platform that organizes the data and makes the interviews freely available online.[1]

Some may despair that smaller institutions clearly do not have the funds or means to launch and sustain such large projects. However local museums and archives can form partnerships, adopt free or low cost digital tools, and work together to collect and curate oral histories in their own locales. In the UK, digital storytelling, which “makes use of low-cost digital cameras, non-linear editing software and notebook computers to create short, multimedia stories,” has become such a popular method.[2] Through this model, any computer user can record an interview with someone about their past on a smart phone or computer. Then the two can curate a short, broadcast quality audio or video clip, and share it with the broader public on a website. According to Daniel Meadows of Cardiff University, what is exciting about digital storytelling is that “contributors are not just originating their material, for the first time they are editing it too.”

quick_guide_ps3

Guide for users of My Yorkshire on how to make a Photo Story, accessed Mylearning.org

My Yorkshire embraces digital storytelling to help “communities to become storytellers in partnership with museums, libraries, and archives.”[3] Users follow a guide that teaches them how to create and upload short 1-3 minute audio or video clips from larger oral histories they recorded to the My Yorkshire website. Each of these individual stories include transcribed audio, historic images, and sometimes video users can generate. Eleven area museums support the website, which offers a variety of methods to search and navigate through all the uploaded stories. Pinned Google maps show the cities in Yorkshire where each story takes place, as well as the geographic spread of contributors. Users can also find relevant stories by typing a keyword into the site’s Google search bar or by browsing through 16 themes that categorize the stories. In all, My Yorkshire offers a curated, guided experience that highlights personal stories surrounding family life, labor, and leisure activities in Yorkshire.

 

Digital storytelling is successful in part because it embraces multimedia. According to Peter B. Kaufman, people’s increasing ability to express themselves via video and sound “makes the world less reliant on text for knowledge.”[4] Anne Valk and Holly Ewald, who developed a community arts and oral history project called the Mashapaug Project, note that incorporating a digital multimedia framework helped build community support around their project. They wrote digital tools have “expanded our sense of the potential for community projects: the digital materials open avenues to construct multimedia presentations and online sites that can further the community-building and information sharing power of community arts and oral history.”[5]

cork-memory-map-screengrab-for-web

Screenshot of the Cork Memory Map, accessed Cork Folklore Project. 

This concept is also at the heart of the Cork Folklore Project. Cork Folklore, which collects and preserves the “record of the rich traditions of Cork City and beyond,” utilizes multiple mediums to showcase its oral histories.[6] The Project features its oral histories in digital and traveling exhibits, half hour radio programs, films, and a print journal, ensuring that visitors have a range of methods to engage with the material. Visitors can also explore short audio clips selected from the project’s oral histories via the Cork Memory Map. By clicking on a point on the map, visitors can hear a story related to that area of Cork.[7] Cork Folklore’s strong partnerships between the University of Cork, Northside Community Enterprises, and the Department of Social Protection keep their multimedia model supported and sustainable. This framework also benefited the broader Cork community. Over the years, the project employed more than 90 Cork natives and taught them how to use computers, conduct oral histories, use video and sound recording equipment, and archival methods. Cork residents were attracted to the project because it gave them the opportunity to learn digital skills, as well as ensure their authentic voices were represented in the project. This strong partnership enables Cork Folklore to explore and evaluate multiple ways to effectively disseminate their oral histories in the digital world to the public.[8]

My Yorkshire and Cork Folklore are clearly products of collaboration centered on digital storytelling. They each represent a network built up of professionals, institutions, and community members. As My Yorkshire and Cork Folklore demonstrate, oral historians must strengthen their skills as team builders and community collaborators. While producing quality interviews clearly remains a necessary skill, oral historians now must also consider how to form partnerships, teach others best practices in the digital world, and encourage collaboration. These skills empower oral historians to co-create highly curated experiences that keep pace with digital technology and provide multiple means of access for a variety users across the globe.

[1] Nancy Groce and Bertram Lyons, “Designing a National Online Oral History Collecting Initiative: The Occupational Folklore Project at the American Folklife Center.”Oral History Review 1 (2013): 54–66.

[2]Daniel Meadows, “Digital Storytelling: Research Based Practice in New Media,” Visual Communication 2.2 (2003): 189.

[3] My Yorkshire, “Home,” http://www.myyorkshire.org/Home.asp, accessed 2/13/2017

[4] Peter B Kaufman, “Oral History in the Video Age.”Oral History Review 1 (2013): 7.

[5]Anne Valk and Holly Ewald, “Bringing a Hidden Pond to Public Attention: Increasing Impact through Digital Tools,” Oral History Review 40.1 (Winter/Spring 2013): 12.

[6]Cork Folklore Project, “About,” https://www.ucc.ie/en/cfp/about/, accessed 2/13/2017

[7] Cork Folklore Project, “What We Do,” https://www.ucc.ie/en/cfp/whatwedo/, accessed 2/13/2017

[8]Cork Folklore Project, “About,” https://www.ucc.ie/en/cfp/about/, accessed 2/13/2017

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