Managing Oral Histories in the Digital Age

Managing Oral Histories in the Digital Age


American oral historian Professor Michael Frisch delivered the keynote address at the launch of The Australian Generations: Researching 20th Century Lives and Memories conference on 30 October 2014 in Melbourne saying that “life stories are everywhere in this digital age.”

Oral histories are sound recordings, and sometimes video recordings, of social, cultural or professional histories recorded for many uses. In his Melbourne keynote address at the State Library of Victoria, Professor Frisch asked “What does it mean to do oral history in the Digital age?”   “What are the challenges and opportunities in creating, interpreting and producing digital oral history?”

Michael Frisch is a professor in the Department of History, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York (SUNY).  Professor Frisch has influenced international developments in oral and public history since the 1970s.  In the 1980s he coined the notion of ‘shared authority’ to illuminate the oral history relationship.   Since the 1990s he’s worked with digital technologies to promote the creation, sharing and interpretation of recorded interviews.  Further details on his speech and other conference speakers are listed at: 12 November 2014

On 12 November 2014 at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, Professor Frisch spoke about his work on the impact of digital technologies and trends in oral history. His Canberra seminar asked, “How can we make access to the inherent complexity of oral histories more meaningful for researchers and the public?”.  A photograph of that seminar is provided by Douglas Lambert with copyright permission.

Professor Frisch stressed that when an oral history recording is transcribed, the specific content and broader thematic threads which might be useful to researchers are not easily discovered using a library’s catalogue of key words with the transcript.  He supports the use of new approaches and tools for multi-dimensional indexing of the actual audio or video interview recording, which he asserts allows greater exploration of interviews in larger projects.

Michael Frisch gave a similar seminar in Sydney NSW in conjunction with the Oral History Association NSW and the State Library of NSW on 15 November 2014. The title of the Sydney seminar was “Where is Oral History Heading? Trends in Oral History Indexing”.  If you’d like to listen to part of that Sydney seminar, please use the link below and follow the prompts:

Caveat*: When accessing this recording, note that Michael Frisch has given permission to the Oral History Association NSW for the release of his sound file for personal use only.  For potential wider usage of his recording, please email the President of Oral History NSW ( to discuss your plans.

The current NSW President is Professor Paula Hamilton, Professor of History (adjunct), Australian Centre for Public History, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney. *–audio-recordings.html

Flyer for the Frisch seminar 12 Nov. 2014 NLA

Flyer for the Frisch seminar 12 November 2014. Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2015 other than acknowledged sources and citations.

Article published 10 January 2015, Canberra.

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