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.

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.

George Mason University Mentioned in the Film Hidden Figures

When was the last time you heard George Mason University mentioned in a major motion picture? For this author, never. But in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, George Mason University found its way into the script during a memorable part of the film.  The reference to Mason was made by Janelle Monae in her portrayal of Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer and one of three African-American women who played key roles in the early development of the United States’ space program.

Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures” Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Screenshot from video clip accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aiWlZJ6Pfg on 8 Mar 2016.

During the scene Mary Jackson is standing before a judge in a Hampton, Virginia courtroom to ask permission to attend night school classes in graduate-level math and physics sponsored by the University of Virginia and held in the then-whites-only Hampton High School.  When the judge informs her that segregation is the law in Virginia, and that an African American woman attending a white school is unheard of, Jackson pleads with him:

“Your Honor, you of all people should understand the importance of being first…You were the first in your family to serve in the  armed forces. U.S. Navy. The first to attend university.  George Mason… Your Honor, of all the cases you will hear today, which one will matter in a hundred years? Which one will you make the first?”

While the scene in the movie takes place sometime in 1961, as a later reference in the scene to Alan B. Shepard implies, we know that Mary Jackson actually attended the classes several years earlier and completed the program in 1958. A 1961 reference to George Mason University would have been a bit premature.  Mason was known as George Mason College (it became George Mason University in April of 1972), was a two-year community college, and had only been in operation for four years by 1961. So, it is highly unlikely that this jurist would have just finished his work at George Mason and became a high-ranking judge.

Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see that the writers of the film chose George Mason as the institution for the judge to have attended. This might spur some interesting reference inquiries in the future!