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.