Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project Digital Media Database, Kentucky Oral History Commission.
The project represented by this Web site was an immense undertaking. Begun in 1998 by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC) in partnership with the University of Louisville, the goal was to document the struggle to end legal segregation in the state of Kentucky. The original project generated over 250 interviews, amounting to 350 hours of audio, 40 hours of video, and 10,000 transcript pages, and the commission also produced a documentary in 2001 entitled Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. It was distributed to schools in the state and was also broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television (KET) on numerous occasions.
In an effort to make the original oral history materials accessible to researchers, teachers, students, and the interested general public, KOHC a created a Web site which has, at its core, an impressive database currently containing more than half of the interviews It is organized by fields which indicate the chronicler's name, the format of a particular selection, the interview's catalog number, the decade covered in the recording, the county under discussion, and a description of the interview contents. All fields are searchable, and different search results can be sorted according to all of the above criteria (except for the description). The database organizes not only complete transcripts in a handy PDF format, but also audio and video excerpts of selected material.
The database itself would have been a considerable achievement on its own, but the KOHC went one step further and did something very important. They made an attempt to contextualize all of this information so that viewers of the site could better understand the material presented. They arranged the interviews by section, including "Life Under Segregation," "Desegregation of Education," "Public Accommodations," "Open Housing," and "Protests and Demonstrations" (with an additional option of selecting "All Video"). Each topic's main page contains a list of the relevant interviews along with a short statement providing historical background on the material being presented, thus adding meaning to the audio, video, and text that follow without being overly interpretive.
The creators of this site have obviously taken great care with the process of selecting audio and video excerpts, as all of the segments this reviewer played were of good quality and retained their meanings well outside of the confines of the larger recordings or transcripts. This is not always easily done, but by providing the introductions to the topics and short descriptions of each chronicler's selections, the site allows these audio and video portions to stand alone.
Beyond the database and the oral histories themselves, the site contains some very useful components for educators. Through a link to the KET site, which houses companion material for Living the Story, teachers can find a wide array of curriculum, including ten different lesson plans covering primary, intermediate, middle, and high school levels. They are designed according to state standards and goals (which are specifically noted), and they utilize oral history excerpts from the database as teaching tools. A very helpful addition to this component is a short section on how to do oral histories, with sample questions tailored to the civil rights topic.
Another inventive component [that will soon become] part of the site is a Historical Scene Investigation, or HSI, section (modeled after the popular CSI television series). The HSI concept was originally developed by Kathleen Swan of the University of Kentucky as a way of providing students with primary source materials and then teaching them how to use that information appropriately. The KOHC commissioned work on two civil rights modules that could be used in tandem with the database, and the program's director at that time, Doug Boyd, collaborated closely with Swan in the development of the two units. When added to the KOHC's site, the HSI modules should prove to be very popular with both educators and students, since they teach important skills like critical thinking in a stylish, creative format that high school students are bound to appreciate.
One final notable feature of the site is the fact that a link to a use and quotation policy is prominently displayed on the home page (as well as on various pages throughout the site). One of the oral history community's concerns about placing material on the Web has had to do with the fact that there is a loss of control over archival information that is placed on the Internet, with the possibility that people might pirate and reuse text and audio as if it had no copyright attached to it. By giving the use and quotation policy a central location on the site's opening page, the creators are sending a reminder to users of this material that it is copyrighted and that there are standard procedures for requesting permission to reproduce any portion of what they might find in the database. And, the accompanying forms state very clearly that that extends to all formats, including digital ones.
This site has just about everything that modern Internet users have come to expect in terms of searchability, ease of use, and good design. At the same time, it presents information in a number of different formats and for a number of varied audiences--from the general public to serious researchers to high school students--while making it relevant to all of them. None of this is an easy task, particularly when the amount of material being presented is so extensive, but the staff at the KOHC have managed to achieve all of the above. This is a model oral history Web site, and perhaps it will inspire other programs to look to this type of approach to projects in the future.
Mary A. Larson
University of Nevada Oral History Program
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|Title Annotation:||http://126.96.36.199/ civil_rights_mvt/|
|Author:||Larson, Mary A.|
|Publication:||The Oral History Review|
|Article Type:||Website overview|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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