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.


Charles Magnus, Patriotic Civil War Propaganda Printmaker

This post was written by Leanne Fortney, who began working with us in March as a Graduate Student Assistant within Research Services. Her main responsibilities are safeguarding our materials and assisting patrons with their research needs. She is a mother of two working on her MA in Art History with an interest in U.S. modern art between World War I and World War II. 

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In the United States, the Civil War created such a great demand for patriotic propaganda. Printmakers, such as Charles Magnus, produced over a thousand illustrations within the course of the war. This entire Northern Virginia Civil War images collection consists of nearly 200 images on various historical subjects in a variety of formats, including wood engravings, steel engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, maps, and manuscripts from three periodicals: The Illustrated London News, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper’s Weekly. Most of the images depict battles and maps of the Civil War. The maps include the cities of Arlington and Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. Columbia Pike, Chain Bridge, Long Bridge, the Little River Turnpike, Centreville and Manassas all existed at the time of the Civil War and all of them are represented or referenced in these images.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Magnus’s Civil War illustrations depicted scenes of civil war camps, battles, and portraits of military officials, but he specialized primarily in decorative patriotic stationary such as cards and envelopes. Although pictorial images comprise the majority of the collection, there are also numerous maps, most of which were produced by lithography. A number were produced for military purposes and employed by both the North and South alike. Maps made during the Civil War were often exceedingly accurate; their usefulness carried on into the twentieth century. Magnus’s lithograph series entitled, “Bird’s Eye View of Alexandria, Va”, are illustrated on well-preserved envelopes that are no larger than 3 inches by 5 inches and include a few that are hand colored! In 1798, German inventor, Alois Senefelder, created an innovated and revolutionary printmaking process that is now known as lithography. Lithography allows for artists to produce an unlimited set of images. This enabled Magnus to keep up with the high demands for his patriotic illustrations.

Illustrations like these have been created and used by the public to highlight news events, political satire, coverage of wars, marriages, and even celebrity (like Kings, Queens, Popes, etc.) outings. The practice of creating woodblock prints has been around since at least 220 C.E. with the Han Dynasty. Eventually, through the use of removable type and the invention of the printing press, artists were able to distribute their images over an even larger population.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.









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.


Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month!

Here in the Special Collections Research Center, we are honoring Women’s History Month by highlighting the collections and ephemera that document women’s contributions to American history.

Below, we have a pamphlet from the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, dated from 1910. Here the authors connect a women’s work in the home with the broader work of cleaning up society.

Ephemera from the Rare Book Collection,”Women in the Home,” by Susan W. Fitzgerald, JK1896 .F58 1910

From the Massachusetts Woman’s Suffrage Association is the follow pamphlet, documenting the states where women had the right to vote, or a partial right to vote.

Map of United States Showing Progress of Equal Suffrage, 1915, JK1896 .M36 1915

As of 1915, women were legally allowed to vote in only a few states. The 19th Amendment would not ratified until 192o, which gave women the right to vote nationally.

Equal rights for women would remain an issue in politics even after the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Founded in 1920, the League of Women Voters is a non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to informed and active participation in government and works to increase understanding of public policy issues.

In the Special Collections Research Center, we have the records of the League of Women Voters Fairfax, C0031. This collection contains multiple documents that outline the 1970s battle over the Equal Rights Amendment, never ratified.

Poster outlining “ERA Month,” and the importance of the Equal Rights Amendment, League of Women Voters Fairfax Collection C0031, Box 11, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries

In the above outline, for “ERA Month”, the authors assure its reader that “The ERA will not take women out of the home, require them to take jobs or to contribute half the financial support of their family. Rather, it would recognize for the first time the role and the contribution to the support of the family that the homemaker makes.”

To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. For rare books, search the library catalog, limiting your search to Fenwick Special Collections.

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.

Reston@50 A new digital exhibition on the history of Reston!

Reston, Virginia celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in April 2014, and SC&A has created a new digital exhibition on Reston’s history. Named Reston@50, the Omeka-based exhibition contains eight themed exhibits and more than one hundred exhibit items from the University Libraries’ collections pertaining to Reston.  The exhibition is part of a grant project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

The University Libraries’ relationship with the founders of Reston began nearly thirty years ago with the deposit of the Planned Community Archives collection (PCA) at SC&A in 1987. The collection contains archival materials gathered and preserved by people and organizations associated with the history and development of Reston.  Other planned communities, such as Columbia and Greenbelt, Maryland, and those that were part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s New Communities Program, are also represented in PCA.  PCA is just one of several collections pertaining to Reston that are featured in Reston@50. The University Libraries have maintained a close working relationship with founding members of Reston, the Reston Museum and Historic Trust, and other supporters of Reston over the past three decades during which the collections were acquired.


Plot plan, Lake Anne Village Reston, Fairfax County Virginia. Plat showing layout of housing clusters, single family homes, model homes, schools, churches, and roads in Lake Anne Village. Robert E. Simon, Jr. Papers #C0162 Box 3, Folder 8. Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

Items shown in Reston@50, along with exhibit text,  help illustrate certain themes in the history and development of the new town, namely: Reston’s beginnings; planning, designing, and marketing; villages, village centers, green spaces, and schools; business and government; recreation, arts, and culture; Gulf and Mobil; transportation; and community-mindedness. These items were selected and digitized by SC&A staff.

Along with Reston@50, and as part of the VFH grant project, the University Libraries, in conjunction with the Reston Museum and Historic Trust, sponsored a symposium on April 26, 2014 at the Reston Community Center in Reston.  The event, Reston at 50: Looking Back at Forward Thinking, featured lectures pertaining to aspects of Reston architecture, diversity in Reston, the Planned Community Archives collection, and other scholarship on Reston by George Mason University faculty and students.

Reston@50 can be accessed at: reston50.gmu.edu.

Preservation Week!

Every year during Preservation Week, Lene Palmer our retiring preservation librarian has installed an exhibition in Fenwick Library highlighting preservation tips and techniques. This year is no different. Join us tomorrow for an exhibition reception complete with food and drink in Fenwick Library’s A and C wings.

In addition to preservation awareness the exhibition also features materials relating to the planned community of Reston, Virgina. This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of Reston, and there will be a symposium tonight at the Reston Community Center for all who are interested.