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.
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.
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.
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.
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.