Let’s Get Technical! Recording Oral Histories at SCRC

The George Mason University Oral History Program has come a long way since its inception in 1999, undergoing important developments in terms of recording and editing interviews.

From 1999 until 2004, oral history interviews were audio only recordings captured on audiocassette. Because there was no dubbing equipment, subjects were not sent copies of their interviews-which today is an essential part of the oral history program. Beginning in 2004, audio interviews were digitally recorded and the transition from analog to digital recordings made giving participants copies of their interviews possible. In 2006, the program moved to digital audio/video recordings and since then many oral historians have recorded over 125 interviews with students, staff, alumni, politicians, and others from the local community.

Today’s Setup:

Presently, we conduct oral histories in the Special Collections Research Center Seminar Room in Fenwick Library on Mason’s Fairfax campus. We record video and audio on a Sony Handicam HD video camera, capturing footage on mini-DV cassettes in high definition. Two Audio-technica omnidirectional microphones are used- one for the subject and one for the oral historian- and connected to the camera to record the audio for the interview. As a backup, in case of video loss or sound syncing issues, we record an audio only copy on a Tascam digital audio recorder. Lighting equipment is also used for interviews. We are currently using two Genaray Spectro-LED lights, which are adjusted based on the time of day and weather conditions to accurately light the subject.

Digital recordings are then edited using Adobe Premiere Pro. The mini-DV cassette footage is captured by the Adobe Premiere program and then altered for clarity and a title containing the name of the subject and the date of the interview is placed in the video. After editing, the footage is converted to MP4 video, Quicktime video, and a preservation copy is kept on an external hard drive in case of loss. Exporting the edited footage to Adobe Encore, which is used to make DVD’s, makes one physical copy of an interview. Extra copies of DVD’s are made using a TEAC DVC copier – two are kept in the George Mason University Oral History Program Collection and one is sent to the subject along with a copy of their signed Deed of Gift and a short letter thanking them for their participation.

An example of a typical oral history setup.

The transition from analog to digital recordings has made editing, sharing, and accessing interviews easier for oral historians and researchers, and the ability to store digital and physical copies of interviews aids in the preservation and future access of these materials. Storing oral histories in multiple formats ensures that access is available even when current playback technologies become obsolete.

If you have any questions regarding the George Mason University Oral History Program, contact Emily Curley at ohp@gmu.edu or visit SCRC’s website. Aside from oral histories we conduct, we also have a few other oral history collections.

To view snippets of completed interviews, visit http://oralhistory.gmu.edu/ or our Youtube channel.

 

Wading into Broadside’s Snapshots of the Smoky ’70s

This post was written by Greg Campbell, a former newspaper journalist and GAO analysts. He is nearing completion of a master’s degree in history with a focus on military history and the western United States at George Mason University. He is rounding out his skills as a historian through work at the Special Collections Research Center. Greg joined SCRC in March and has been working on digitizing images from our Broadside Photograph collection.

One of the striking things captured in the Broadside photo collection is that there used to be whole lot of smoking going on around here. In the 1970s, before second-hand smoke was harmful, photos of meetings sometimes show an ashtray in the center of the table and lots of people lighting up indoors. Striking, too, is a cigarette brand’s sponsorship of a women’s tennis tournament on campus. As the ad slogan said, we really have come a long way, baby.  The photo collection also includes a couple shots of tennis champion Billie Jean King practicing at GMU; she is a subject of the new movie, “Battle of the Sexes.”

The era of ashtrays on the table and indoor smoking. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 19, Image 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

In addition to capturing evidence of the unlamented demise of gargantuan lapels and ties three times the current width, the photos show a variety of ancient technologies. For example, a Broadside photographer shot students, one smoking, playing the new computer game Pong, which was encased in a massive cabinet befitting such a wondrous miracle of modern technology.  Other shots show a story being written on an IBM Selectric typewriter for the campus newspaper, and class registration being carried out via the exchange of paperwork. No fun there.

A miracle of modern technology–the computer game Pong hits campus. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 03, Image 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The technology that produced the photo images is also a throwback to a different time—the laborious pre-digital photography era. The photo process used to go something like this for student photographers:  Buy 50 feet of black-and-white Tri-X film. Place it (in total darkness) in a bulk loader. Load each roll of film. Trim with scissors. Shoot the film, hoping you’d hit the right exposure and shutter speed. Develop the film by (in total darkness) cracking open each roll of film and winding it onto a stainless steel reel. Place that in a stainless steel canister with a lid. Add chemicals. Agitate at timed intervals. Dry the negatives. Cut up the negatives into groups of five and insert them in plastic sleeves. Print a contact sheet of positive images. Study with a magnifying loupe.  Pick an image. Place the negative in an enlarger. Pluck out photo paper (in total darkness) and place it in an enlarger.  Project the image on paper, sometimes dodging and burning to lighten or darken the image. Put photo paper in developing solution for a timed bath and then in fixing solution. Dry the print, and voila! The raw material has been produced for another multi-step process leading to publication.

A man playing the guitar and harmonica. George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, R0135, Box 29, Page 30, Image 33, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The Special Collections Research Center is digitizing what are mostly masses of black and white negatives held in plastic sleeves in three-ring clamshell albums.  These include what were essentially the outtakes of the photographers’ efforts—the shots that never made it into the newspaper. For some of the students, it is clear the learning experience is underway.  There are some technical hiccups in the body of work—things a student photographer might not know until that moment of truth came in the darkroom. Others clearly had a photographer’s eye combined with technical skills and produced some excellent photos. All of them provide a snapshot of the past.

Our exhibition will be up until mid-August. Stop by anytime to view our materials on display. Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Get Rec’d: The Difference Between Archiving and Records Management

This post was written by Samara Carter, University Records Manager.

Box for Records Management. The labels indicate the types of materials included in the box (i.e. prospective student sign-in sheets, payment sheets, copies of graduation lists). This photo was taken by Nick Welsh, Records Management Specialist, in the warehouse which is separate space from the SCRC stacks containing rare books and archival materials.

“I have stuff for archiving.”

The word archiving gets used interchangeably day in and day out by university offices wanting to submit records to University Archives or URM (University Records Management), both housed in Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Sometimes departments have photographs or publications for University Archives, sometimes departments have financial documents that need to be stored for a few years before they can be destroyed. While both of our units work in tandem to oversee Masons’ records, archiving is best applied as a term when speaking about historical and/or permanent records. 

Why is that?

An archive is a repository for items that need to be maintained for an undefined period of time, generally forever. University Archives houses collections with the intention of tending to them in perpetuity for the purpose of making them available for research and posterity, including documenting the history of George Mason. URM houses public records with the intention of destroying them at a later date.

Records fall into three categories here at Mason:

  • Historical (permanent)
  • Public (permanent)
  • Public (temporary)

However, all records have a lifecycle that begin the exact same way – a document of some format or another is created and bam – a record is born! Along the lifecycle of a record, though, the path diverges towards two choices: permanent retention or destruction.

Word of the Week: Lifecycle” created by the National Archives, explaining the life cycle of records.

Once a record has reached the end of its active usefulness, a Mason department will contact University Archives or URM about “archiving” it. Historical items are gleefully claimed by our archivists whereas temporary, public items eventually make their way with approval to the URC (University Records Center). Public records are stored, rather than “archived,” at the URC and given a destruction date based on the context of use and date of the documents in question.

At University Archives and URM, we are doing our best to clear up the confusion between our respective tasks to protect against permanent items accidentally being stashed away in an area where they could meet an untimely end in a shredder.

As for those permanent public records? Currently they’re all maintained in-house with their respective departments for accessibility reasons.

For more information about Records and Information Management look here.

Samara can be reached at  scarte25@gmu.edu or  703.993.2201. Nick Welsh, Records Management Specialist, can be reached at nwelsh3@gmu.edu or 703.993.5273.

Reorganizing the GMU Oral History Program Collection

This post was written by Emily Curley, our Oral History Program Coordinator.

The George Mason University Oral History Program has conducted over 200 interviews since 1999. Because we’re always adding to the collection, it’s time to reorganize the physical collection and the finding aid.

Oral History Collection, #R0122, in our closed stacks.

What we’ve done so far:

We’ve reorganized the physical collection. This included moving CD’s of oral history interviews into new boxes and arranging the individual interviews by date, rather than alphabetically. The collection increased from nine to eleven boxes and range from the late 1970’s to 2017. These histories cover a wide variety of topics including the history of George Mason University and Northern Virginia.

Our Next Steps:

  • Comparing the finding aid to the physical collection
  • Revising long abstracts and creating missing abstracts
  • Creating a new finding aid
  • Creating workflow for periodic updates of the Oral History finding aid

We will compare the finding aid to the physical collection and fill in any missing interviews. The finding aid was last updated in 2013, so there are over 50 oral histories that need to be added. After we have confirmed that all of the interviews are updated, we will check the finding aid once again and revise some of the abstracts. Some abstracts have too much information while others have too little. Our aim is to be as consistent as possible.

A box with an oral history pulled out to show what information goes on the labels.

After confirming that the abstracts are correct, I will be working with the Archives and Manuscript Librarian, Liz Beckman, to create a new finding aid, which is expected to go on our website sometime this summer.

Finally, I will create a guide for the next oral historian (who will start in September) so that they can periodically add new interviews and keep the finding aid up to date.

Links

GMU Oral History Program

Youtube

Finding Aid

Other Oral History Holdings

OMEKA Site

To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections. Additionally, requests can be made to listen to oral histories in our Reading Room. Copies can also be made for a fee, which are listed on our website. Some oral histories may need to be converted to disk before they are available to patrons. For questions about oral histories, contact Emily Curley. To schedule an appointment or to request copies of an oral history, contact our Research Services Coordinator, Rebecca Bramlett.

Civil Rights in the James H. Laue Papers

James H. Laue was born in River Falls, Wisconsin, in 1937. In 1959, Laue was admitted to the Harvard graduate program in sociology where he studied race relations and the sociology of religion. During his graduate studies, Laue became involved in the Civil Rights movement, attending lunch counter sit-ins, church “kneel-ins,” and protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, giving him first-hand knowledge that he would go on to use in his 1966 doctoral dissertation, “Direct Action and Desegregation: Toward a Theory of the Rationalization of Protest.”

Civil Rights Notebook-Atlanta Sit-In, page 19. James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 53, Folder 02, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Civil Rights Notebook-Atlanta Sit-In, page 19. James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 53, Folder 02, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries. Click image to enlarge.

 

In 1986, Laue came to George Mason University and became the first Lynch Professor of Conflict Resolution. Until his death in 1993, Laue participated in dozens of academic conferences, taught numerous classes and workshops on dispute resolution, published scores of academic papers, collaborated with Civil Rights activists and arms-control advocacy groups, delivered sermons at churches and speeches at graduate commencements, and remained active in the field of peacemaking and conflict resolution.

 

"Mission Statement". James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 5, Folder 02, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

“Mission Statement”. James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 5, Folder 02, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries. Click image to enlarge.

 

Poster for GMU Event. James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 98, Folder 14, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Poster for GMU Event. James H. Laue papers, Collection #C0055, Box 98, Folder 14, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries. Click image to enlarge.

 

His papers contain manuscripts, workshop papers, notebooks, legal documents, photographs, audio cassettes, memorabilia and correspondence with influential figures like Coretta Scott King. These papers document Laue’s development as a sociology student and Civil Rights activist in the early 1960s through his career as a mediator and professor of urban sociology and conflict resolution into the early 1990s.

The James H. Laue papers can be searched by clicking on any of the links above. If you are interested in learning more about the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, click here.

To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.