Final Project

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Introduction

Many of you who have been following my project for the past couple of months know that my goal was to set up an oral history repository that I would be able to use when I get out into the field. I also wanted to anonymize my audio and video to protect my subjects’ identity out in the field. As you are not looking at an OHMS viewer right now, you can see that I have failed in that objective.  However, I have not failed totally, and let me tell you why.

The Project

For those not caught up, the goal of my project was to set up an oral history repository using a piece of software called OHMS. OHMS stands for Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. What OHMS allows scholars to do is to keep their audio and video interviews all in one place. Not only that, but OHMS also allows scholars to index their oral histories. This means that at different points in the video or audio recording, you can annotate the interview. This can be anything from including a full or partial transcripts to breaking the interview down into more manageable chunks to just including a handful of keywords. The user can then search through the interview using those keywords or parts of the transcript.

My primary concern, however, was what to do about politically sensitive subjects. I work on Chile – specifically on the regime of Augusto Pinochet. It is fairly standard practice in the writing of history to use a pseudonym for one’s sources. However, if one posts a video online, then any hope of anonymity is gone.

Or is it? One of the reasons I undertook this project was because the group of oral historians at the table next to me expressed how rich an oral history source could be in all of its forms – not only do you hear the emotion in a person’s voice, you see it in their face, you watch them interact with their surroundings, and you gain access to a whole raft of inflections and that you simply don’t get with the written word regardless of the literary prowess of the author.

I began to think about how I might capture all of that richness but still protect the interviewee’s identity. After speaking with Kathleen, she directed me to this link that demonstrates how one might go about rendering one’s subject anonymous in a video. Anonymizing the audio was pretty obvious – changing the pitch takes care of that with little concern.

However, making a video anonymous while still preserving the richness of facial expressions, gestures, and other emotions presents a far more difficult challenge. A program called Adobe Pro Premiere (which thankfully, has a free trial available), has a feature called “Edge Finder” on it. This allows the user to see – as the name suggests – the edges of a person’s face, the surroundings that person is in, and all of the other aspects that add to the richness of an oral history interview that is video recorded.

So, to that end I recorded a video of myself talking about my project as a sample. I decided that I would apply these anonymizing elements to that video, put the video in OHMS, annotate it, and then post it on my website. Doing so would allow me to, when I got out into the field and had actual oral history interviews recorded, post my oral history interviews in a way that was both accessible and anonymous.

Before you being the following sections, it may help to watch the video at the top of this post.

My Successes

As you can see, I have embedded my my video with the anonymizing elements applied. I used the Edge Finder tool in Adobe Premiere Pro. In addition, while I was originally going to strip the audio from the video and use the program Audacity that we used in class, Premiere Pro also has an audio function where you can shift the pitch of the video. I was able to very easily apply both of those things to the video interview of myself. I eventually got my OHMS account set up (more on that in the next section) and was eventually put my video clip in the system (more on that too) and I tagged the video with annotations and partial transcripts for the various sections.

My Failures

Unfortunately and embarrassingly, this section will be far longer than the previous. While I was able to modify my video without any issues at all, it was the OHMS software that gave me the most trouble. To begin, it took almost two weeks for OHMS to set up my repository. Let me say this – that is not their fault. From what I understand the system is run by academics and due to the increasing corporatization of the university system many, but not all, academics are overworked and underpaid. It seemed that there were also some technical difficulties in setting up my account because while I was in direct contact with the system’s administrator and he was telling me that I had access I could not get into the system. That delay meant that ultimately I did not get to spend as much time as I needed to getting to know the program.

On that front, it took me a very long time to work out OHMS. I should say that I have no experience at all with computers outside of day to day interactions. I would say that 90% of my computer use centers around typing papers and printing out journal articles. Books are far more interesting and entertaining. I spent days trying to figure out how to even get my video clip posted into the OHMS system. I eventually worked out that you have to post the video to YouTube (for which I had to make an account) and then insert the link to the metadata system of OHMS. Once I did that, I was well able to annotate – or to use the system’s terms, “tag” – my video clip and insert keywords and partial transcripts.

My biggest and most obvious issue was that I could not for the life of me figure out how to put the OHMS viewer on my website. I looked at the instructions and they made absolutely no sense. I tried to download various things and put things in different folders and I was never able to work it out. I ended up thoroughly defeated and actually very disappointed in myself. For that reason, I have posted in this summation what I believe to be the most important part of this project – the anonymization of video sources.

I would like, if possible, some feedback as to how successful it was. Maybe I am a little down on myself with this project but right now I don’t feel like my treatments to the video really did a whole lot of anonymizing. Maybe that is just because I am looking at myself in the video, but I can certainly tell that it’s me sitting in my office in my apartment.

Conclusions

I believe projects like this are important. As students in a PhD program at an R1 university, we are used to being successful. This project on the whole was not successful. It was not a complete disaster, however. I did anonymize the video (though I am not sure how effective that was) and I at least got OHMS to work even if I was not able to post it on my website. I do plan to keep working on this. If nothing else, OHMS is a good place to have an additional backup of my oral history data. I anticipate that at some point I will be able to make all of the connections and learn how to put my interviews up on my website. I have done the hard part – I got all of my accounts set up, I put everything in the various systems, and I learned how to do almost everything. I floundered for a very long time with everything. Next time I have an oral history interview, however, I will not have to struggle. I will know how to do almost everything. Making public these sources is important, especially so in cases like Chile that are particularly instructive for the contemporary moment when as a society we are beginning to question the legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus. In such cases, it is important to keep sources anonymous. I have no illusions – this is not a finished project. I am however (at least I think so), part of the way there.

Blog Assignment 3/28

This may seem like a strange think to dream about, but one professional goal I have always had is to teach a freshman seminar course. I’ve always thought about what it would be like to teach an honors seminar or something to that effect. Ideally, this course would not necessarily be a history course, but would contain content in my research area of history. In other words, the readings for the course could combine all of my intellectual influences – history, anthropology, literature, social theory, etc. In terms of an assignment for such a course that uses digital tools, I would, of course, have the option for my students to type a paper on a computer. Jokes aside, here is a sample assignment I would give to my students.

Choose one of these three historical moments and construct a timeline – the Cuban Revolution, the Chilean Path to Socialism, or the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Your timeline should stretch to at least 50 years before the historical moment and continue to the present. In the time before, select at least five major causal factors and at least five secondary factors or events that led to this historical moment. In the time after your chosen event, show what the legacies of this event were. Be creative – you can examine oral histories, political systems, and whole economic systems for this part of the assignment. Provide at least five legacies of said event. In addition, type a 3-4 page paper giving brief descriptions of why you put different events on your timeline. There should be a minimum of 15 items on your timeline, and each should have at least a paragraph attached analyzing what happened. You should draw on at least 5 primary source documents and 5 secondary source documents. Students who receive the highest grade on this assignment will include photographs, links or screenshots to crucial documents, short video clips, and other expressions of creativity.

Obviously, this assignment will take a lot of elaboration in class about what exactly I am looking for. Nevertheless, I feel like this gives students a chance to be creative, and we will have already covered many of the potential sources in class. It might be wise to include events that happened outside of Latin America come to think of it, but given the significant role of the United States in all three of the events I mentioned finding primary sources in English should not be too much of an issue.

Project Planning Documents

This week’s assignment is the planning project document. I have attached my working bibliography to this page.

Bibiliography

As I have mentioned in previous posts, this project will employ OHMS to record and index a mock oral history interview. In essence, what I am doing here is building the infrastructure with which to house my oral history interviews that I will conduct in the coming years during my dissertation research. I will also be able to familiarize myself with the various technologies needed to have an online archive of oral histories.

I will use voice changing software and video editing software to anonymize my interviewees as my oral history interviews will likely take place in politically charged contexts. In my bibliography, the Red Hen Lab piece “Anonymizing Audiovisual Data” provides information on how this might be done. I have also included a handful of other online oral history projects that I find inspirational for my own work. One in particular, Goin’ North, makes use of the OHMS software. I have also included projects concerned with Chile, namely Hiner’s piece and Larrando’s mapping project.

Other aspects of the bibliography include methodological aspects of recording oral histories and of text analysis. The latter point relates to my eventual use of coding oral history transcripts and having a searchable database of text that historians can work with. That aspect of the project may be many years down the line, but nevertheless I think that will be an important consideration as my own research develops.

Blog Post 3/14

Project Updates

Before I got into this week’s readings (which bothered me to no end, by the way) I want to give a quick summation of my project’s progress. Over spring break, I recorded the mock interview which I’m going to work with. As I have mentioned in prior posts, I will be manipulating both the audio and the video recordings of this interview so as to make my subject anonymous. This will become important in my own research as I can still maintain a good deal of the interview’s context and the interviewee’s reactions and emotions, but still conceal their identity. This is crucial to responsible scholarship in politically charged contexts. I am in the process of getting set up with OHMS and software I can use to generate an annotated transcript. To sum up, I am making progress and the project is going well thus far – I will begin actually working with the materials over the coming week.

Readings 

The first three readings highlight the importance of open access. The first reading listed shows the potential for scholarly application of 3D modeling tools. This topic and methodology are, however, a little out of my wheelhouse. I nevertheless found the use of certain tools to be fascinating. Regarding the second and third reading listed, I saw a lot of possibility for educational opportunity. Certainly, we cannot all travel to Egypt to view the Red Monastery or to the British Museum to view its collections (a particular impossibility for many of those living in regions from which the Museum’s artifacts were stolen), however these 3D renderings at least give some access to the artifacts. Allowing open access to these files may provide the spark for a young mind anywhere in the world to delve deeper, to read, and to think.

The readings about Syria irked me to no end. Certainly, I recognize that both of the scholars were attempting to grapple with epistemological issues surrounding digital scholarship. However, I wonder if anyone in Syria actually cares about “digital colonialism.” I would imagine that a far more pressing issue for Syrians is actual colonialism. The word “intervention” comes up a handful of times in the articles, but never to speak of the extent of the United States’ intervention in Syria. The term and theme of “cultural appropriation” (a term itself misread and “appropriated” from anthropological theory where it originally meant something completely different) emerges far more often. There is no mention (outside of vague passing references) here of the United States’ military intervention in Syria. The immensity of the destabilization United States imperialism is responsible for in Syria goes totally unmentioned here. The absurdity of the deputy mayors’ assertion that “we do not stand for terrorism” (we, of course, meaning the West) goes utterly unchallenged in both articles. These articles were both written in 2016, a year over the course of which the Obama administration dropped 26,000 bombs around the world. That is one every 20 minutes for an entire year. “We” in actual fact not only stand for terrorism, we embody it. That colonialism matters far more than that of a plastic reconstruction of an arch (that may well have not been destroyed had Western powers not fueled the flames of the Syrian Civil War) that religious fundamentalists and pageant princesses parade themselves around.

 

Blog Post 2/28

Project Notes 

As spring break approaches, the crunch is on for grant applications, papers, grading, and all the rest. I am looking forward to the break and making some progress on my project for the class. Over the break, I should be able to get a good amount of work done on it. I will get to record an oral history interview with one of my parents – it might actually be interesting to ask them what their experience of immigration to the United States was like now that we have applied for U.S. citizenship. I wonder if they would have felt the same way ten or twenty years ago. To that end, after I record that interview hopefully I’ll get the chance to play around with the OHMS software a bit. Also, as Jim highlighted to me a couple of weeks ago, I need to update my website quite significantly. I only go on my website to do the weekly assignment, so I failed to realize that my website says “My Blog” at the top and then all of my entries show up in a stream underneath it. While that could be construed as a sort of noble Luddism, I think it best to have a more professional looking interface especially seeing as I actually plan on using this domain as my dissertation develops over the next few years.

This Week’s Readings

As I mention above, I will be using the OHMS software for my project. I’m quite interested in what we covered for this week’s class. I think the main takeaway I have is that for oral histories, it is best to use the best equipment you can afford. Use external microphones and record in the highest quality format possible. The same goes for video formats. Now that digital recording devices for both audio and video abound and are fairly cheap, anyone with a high enough skill level can produce professional-looking video and high-quality audio.

I liked getting a basic orientation in audio and video recording. I had not been familiar with a lot of the terms used so I was happy to learn what bit rate and all the rest was. As I will be using a lot of these tools in my own research and on into the future, it was good to get an orientation.

Perhaps with this topic more than any other, I feel it will be best to carry out a hands-on kind of experience. That is some of what my own project for this course gets at. Basically, my idea with my project is to gain the skills necessary so down the road I do not have to fumble my way through all kinds of new tools.

Regarding the other readings for this week – namely the ones on image plotting – I found them interesting but I’m not sure how I would use them. In this sense, computers are very good at looking at broad patterns using big data, but more specific and analytic tasks computers are mostly useless. For instance, what does an image mean? What is the significance of what is being photographed (or filmed)? Does it matter where and when this image was procured? I wonder if image plotting tools might be best put to use in mapping out plots in films and games and the like.

Blog Post 2/21 and Project Updates

Project

In last week’s class, we split up into groups to discuss the various possibilities for our respective projects. I looked at Jim’s and found his project to be quite fascinating. His project essentially involves writing a code to download a whole set of newspapers then text mining those sources. While there’s something romantic about sifting through old newspapers, Jim was right to point out that he could either have a computer look for what it is that he needs or he could spend the next ten years of his life doing it himself. He was right to point out, however, that his project is a supplement to his broader project. Ultimately, it will be up to him to critique those sources and to read between the lines, the gaps, and the silences of the archive. It gave me a lot to think about.

So too did my discussion with the Africanist historian group doing the oral history project. I ultimately decided that their project was fantastic and very inspirational, but I wanted to go in a different direction. One thing important to my project – that is, my dissertation – is the anonymity of my oral history subjects. As the Pinochet dictatorship remains a politically and emotionally charged subject, protecting my subjects’ privacy is crucial.

The problem is that there is a certain richness added to oral histories if there is both audio and video. How then, does one show emotion, retain vocal inflections, and retain context while protecting someone’s privacy? Kathleen helped me find this resource. This piece states that peoples’ identities can be protected by using a tool called “find edges” in Adobe Premiere Pro. What this does is find the outlines of a person’s face and facial features (along with the edges of other objects in the room) then renders everything else white. This way, expressions and body language are retained but identities can be concealed. I will experiment with this when I record a sample interview with a family member over break.

Readings

This week’s readings focus on mapping tools – something I have been interested in since my scan of digital humanities projects in the first weeks of the course. I found one of particular interest here that maps the locations of the concentration camps and torture centers that Pinochet’s government implemented after the coup and beyond. Unfortunately, a couple years after that proposal was published, the map appears to have gone unfinished. There are a few things I would add. First, when you click on a site, it would be great to have an archive of photographs associated with that place. It would also be great to link out to oral histories of people who were tortured there. I think that would go very far in enabling “users to go back in time to create, narrate, and explore the historical layers of city spaces and tell stories in an interactive, hypermedia environment” as the UCLA reading for this week implores us to do. Instead of city spaces, however, it would be the most obvious and open sites of the dictatorship’s power. If I ever got a big grant to do a digital humanities project, that might be what I would do.

From the Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities reading, what I took away was that it is not only possibly, but important to express the passing of time in our digital humanities mapping projects. I had never really thought about the ability to express time on a map. However, the UCLA reading shows the map of Napoleon’s march to Moscow and how his army dwindled over time and over place. As the digital pedagogy reading states, we should think of maps as a “proposition,” not as a staid scientific fact. We can make arguments through maps, in other words.

Both of the projects we examined this week were effective to varying degrees. What I will say is that the Visualizing Emancipation map was not very intuitive. The map took a long time to load for met and I would have liked to have been able to vary the speed at which the animation took place. I am not so sure that the map was all that visually pleasing either. Another way of expressing diachrony was the Brooklyn map we looked at. I think using color to express when buildings were built was a great tactic. As well as that, the contrast between the color representing the very oldest buildings and the very newest buildings was quite high, making the difference between the two very obvious. Maybe one thing I would have added was a Google Street View of some of the more important/historic buildings, with links out to information pages and that kind of thing. Obviously, that is a massive undertaking for 320,000 buildings, but I found myself looking up some of the very oldest buildings on Google Earth just to see what they looked like out of curiosity.

Updated Project Proposal

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a blog post, I have significantly shifted what it is I want to do with my project for this class. Rather than attempt a whole public digital humanities project, I think it best to make a private project. For that private project, I was inspired by Katie’s idea about making her website a way to process her oral history sources. She mentioned using a tool called OHMS to do so. One great example from my field scan of how this tool has been used is this project Goin’ North. I feel as though I could make use of a tool like this to record and process my own oral history interviews that I will record over the coming years.

General Outline of Project

For this project, I would like to create an online archive of sorts for my oral histories. My initial project would have been involved the curation of a set of documents on a certain topic, namely Chile, and then doing some text mining to tag the documents and making a searchable database. While I believe such a project would have made access to primary sources easier, I do not believe it would have contributed a whole lot to my own research. I believe that kind of project would have also taken up quite a lot of my time. I am, one could say, technologically illiterate, so many of the things we do in this class are fairly new to me. The class on text mining really showed me that if I were to do a text mining project, I would have left a lot information and visualizations out just because of my lack of a skill base.

To that end, I have decided making an archive where I can not only store but also organize my sources will be indispensable moving through my dissertation research. From what I have seen of the OHMS tool, it enables scholars to classify, organize, and tag oral histories. I believe this tool will be very useful in my oral history research and will assist in my analysis of said sources when the time comes to write my dissertation.

Eventually, however, I would like to make this project public. As Dr. Rehberger said a couple of weeks ago in class, oral histories really are not ours (that is, scholars’) to keep. They should be shared and people’s histories should be made available. I would like the potential to have a public database of Chileans’ memories of the Pinochet dictatorship one day. There are, of course, some issues with this such as translation from Spanish. However, I will have to translate these sources myself anyway, so perhaps that’s not as much of an issue as I have been making it out to be.

As far as making an online archive goes, I can certainly make use of the online arena to store other kinds of sources. For example, I can index photographs by date. Maybe I can also find a way to index photographs by place on a map. I would, of course, have to do more research (in Chile, of course) and collect photographic negatives and digitize those, although film scanners are relatively cheap. In any case, the last two paragraphs have just been me thinking out loud. Really, both of those aspects of the project stretch into a future that lies well beyond this class.

Plan

Before spring break, my goal is to meet with either Dr. Rehberger, Dr. Fitzpatrick, or another member of the class who is using or has used OHMS at some point. I would like to discuss the possibilities using the tool has and the kinds of intellectual avenues it can open up. Then, I would like to learn how to use OHMS.

Over the break, I would like to do a test run of the tool. I would also like to maybe experiment with the tool and maybe link it to other tools. For instance, another student in the class, John Vsetecka talked in one of his recent blogs about finding patterns in Holodomor survivors’ vocabulary. Maybe that would be a way to link OHMS with other tools like graphical visualizations. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to experiment with OHMS by recording interviews with my family members and doing a test run of all of the tools’ possibilities.

After the break, I would like to go ahead and begin building my website in the weeks that remain. As I have yet to meet with anyone to talk about the possibilities of OHMS, this aspect of the project is still in its infancy and I do not know yet what the implementation of OHMS will entail. In that process, my project could change completely and the whole scope of what it is that I want to do could very well change.

Concluding Notes 

As I alluded to earlier in this post, I am fascinated by the potential of visualizations. Moving forward, I am going to practice with those some more and see how I could potentially have visualizations for my oral history interviews. I will also continue to carry out scans of other digital humanities projects. One thing I believe I need to do more of is to speak with my classmates. It seems most everyone has a better idea of the potential of the kinds of tools we use in class. To that end, I think it would also be very helpful to sit down with either Dr. Rehberger or Dr. Fitzpatrick and have a discussion about the direction of my project.

2/7 In-Class Activity

For this class, I worked with Marlo. We looked at the Jane Austen corpus that was pre-loaded into Voyant. What we found was actually quite interesting. We found that terms like Mr., Mrs., Ms., and sir were among the most popular terms throughout Austen’s works. This fact paints the picture of a deferential society bent on respect. We found this to be incredibly interesting.

However, the group across from us mentioned that the text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin contains the word “slavery” only 13 times. Seeing as this book is one of the most anti-slavery books of all time, it doesn’t indicate that the frequency of the word is the only factor in a text.