Digital Tools, Multilingual Sources, and Oral History
In May 2021, our campus hosted a “flipped workshop” featuring projects Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) for curating digital collections, research, and teaching. We also featured the use of a new digital tool, the Multilingual Indexing and Search Interface (MISI), that is being designed to make digital collections of multilingual sources more discoverable and accessible to researchers, students and communities that foster a bilingual or multilingual milieu.
The first presentation is by Prof. Doug Boyd, the inventor of OHMS, and provides an overview of the tool and case studies of its use in teaching. The second presentation is by Christa Whitney and Carole Renard who explain their deployment of OHMS to support the multilingual Wexler Oral History Collection. The third presentation is by Dr. Janaya Lasker-Ferretti and Julie Evershed who share their use of OHMS to facilitate learning Italian through a class project to transcribe an oral history. The fourth presentation by Marlaine Magewick on the challenges of bi-cultural indexing for the Michigan Iranian American Oral History Project. The final presentation is by Camron Michael Amin using both OHMS and a new digital tool, the Multilingual Index and Search Interface (MISI) to study the bi-lingual culture of Iranian Americans in Michigan. Each presentation is followed by a Q&A session featuring workshop participants and facilitated by national and local experts.
Funding for this workshop was provided by the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, the Mardigian Library, the Department of Research Administration at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, as well as the MCubed 3.0 initiative.
Presentation I: “Search, Explore, Connect: Using OHMS to Enhance Access to Online Oral History and to Connect Libraries and Archives to the Classroom”
Doug Boyd is the director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky. Boyd envisioned, designed, and implemented OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer), an open-source digital tool that synchronizes text with audio and video online. Boyd is a recent president of the Oral History Association in the United States, and in 2019 he received a Fulbright Scholars Research Grant to collaborate with the National Library of Australia to explore innovative access models for online oral history. Doug Boyd is the co-editor of the book Oral History and Digital Humanities: Voice, Access, and Engagement published by Palgrave MacMillan, and he is the author of the book Crawfish Bottom: Recovering a Lost Kentucky Community which was published by the University Press of Kentucky.
A discussion of “Search, Explore, Connect: Using OHMS to Enhance Access to Online Oral History and to Connect Libraries and Archives to the Classroom,” facilitated by Diana Perpich, Connected Scholarship Library, University Library, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Presentation II: “Bilingual Indexing in OHMS: Leveraging Open-Source Software for Dual-language Access to Oral Histories”
An archive is only as useful as it is accessible. Particularly when working with multilingual archival materials, it’s important to keep in mind different audiences. In these presentations, you will learn about how to leverage the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) to create a bilingual index. We offer an introduction to indexing and bilingual indexing and examine why some oral history collections can greatly benefit from this type of enhanced access. Drawing from our experience creating bilingual indexes for interviews conducted in Yiddish, French, Russian, Spanish, and other languages, we will walk through a step-by-step model workflow developed by the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project. Along the way, we explore the importance of style guides, controlled vocabulary lists, and quality control. Finally, we will discuss the various challenges and opportunities raised by working within the bilingual index structure.
Christa P. Whitney is the director of the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project, a growing collection of more than 1,000 in-depth video interviews about Yiddish language and culture with people of all ages and backgrounds. Originally from Northern California, Christa holds a BA from Smith College in Comparative Literature and Dance, and is currently pursuing an MBA at the Isenberg School of Management. After entering the wonderful world of oral history, she has spent the past decade traveling near and far in search of Yiddish stories, gaining skills in filmmaking, video production, and archival preservation along the way.
Carole Renard works at the Yiddish Book Center as the Wexler Oral History Project Coordinator. She has been a part of the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project for 5 years and has done extensive work on enhancing the accessibility of the collection, including having several hundred of its oral histories indexed and transcribed. She holds an MA in Jewish Studies from University College London and a BA in Anthropology and Jewish Studies from Smith College.
A discussion of “Bilingual Indexing in OHMS: Leveraging Open-Source Software for Dual-language Access to Oral Histories,” facilitated by Dr. Diana Abouali, Director of the Arab American National Museum.
Presentation III: "Transcribing Testimonies: Language Learning through Oral History"
In an intermediate Italian language class at the University of Michigan this past semester, we focused on an oral history interview given at Yale in 1987 which is part of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. The objective of this course was two-fold: to develop students’ language skills through communicative language teaching and transcription and to learn first-hand about oral history and the cultural and historical context of the life of the woman who gave the interview, an Italian-Jewish woman who was born and raised in Tunisia and later became French and moved to France. The class’ project was to transcribe the interview so that there would be a transcription for researchers and others to access for years to come. The real-world value of their contribution was important in motivating the students to better their language skills. We will outline the pedagogy used in this class, the technology and logistical aspects of transcribing in groups in the classroom, report on the students’ response to the course, and make a case for incorporating transcription and oral history in all kinds of classrooms.
Julie Evershed is director of the University of Michigan Language Resource Center, where she oversees the management of the center’s computer labs, library, production studio and instructional technology team. The LRC is just venturing into the field of transcription, organizing co-curricular events for multiple languages transcribing oral histories of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Julie holds a BA in French Language and Literature, and a Master’s in Information and Library Science from the University of Michigan.
Janaya Lasker-Ferretti is coordinator of intermediate Italian courses in the department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. Janaya is interested in researching the use of oral testimonies to advance and facilitate language learning. This past semester her students transcribed an oral history interview and next semester she will teach a class in which a new set of students will translate the interview from Italian to English. Janaya holds a Ph.D. in Italian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley.
A discussion of “Transcribing Testimonies: Language Learning through Oral History,” facilitated by Prof. Jorge Gonzalez del Pozo, Modern and Classical Languages - Spanish, The University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Presentation IV: “Using OHMS to Navigate the Challenges of Bi-Cultural Indexing”
Indexing and metadata creation are vital components of preparing any material for use. However, these processes include several challenges and considerations for indexers and catalogers to make the resource as findable and usable as possible. These considerations take on new meanings and urgencies when indexing bi-cultural materials. This presentation will address some of the challenges associated with indexing through the lens of working with bi-cultural materials, specifically oral history interviews of Iranian-Americans in Michigan. These include ensuring descriptions and metadata encompass the meaning of the material in a relevant, culturally mindful way and navigating the limitations of Western-centric information practices (e.g. the use of the Library of Congress Subject Headings). The presentation will also explore how we used the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) to mitigate indexing challenges and why OHMS is a beneficial tool for this bi-cultural oral history project. The structure and schema of OHMS allowed freedoms during the indexing process that ensured the descriptions and metadata would be findable and usable across cultures and academic disciplines. Also, this presentation will address some of the other considerations of indexing bi-cultural oral histories, including the importance of remaining an objective describer and the challenges of creating robust descriptions as a cultural outsider. Throughout the presentations, I will use examples from the Michigan Iranian-American Oral History Project's use of OHMS to illustrate the challenges, experiences, and solutions from the indexing process.
Marlaine Magewick is a graduate student in the Master’s of Science of Information program at the University of Michigan. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2020 with a BA in History. She joined the Michigan Iranian-American Oral History Project in early-2020.
A discussion of “Using OHMS to Navigate the Challenges of Bi-Cultural Indexing,” facilitated by Prof. Brittany Bayless Fremion, History, Central Michigan University.
Presentation V: “Bilingualism(s), Mobility and Observing the Fluidity of Iranian-American Identity in Text and Conversation Using Two Digital Tools: OHMS and MISI”
Our presentation will briefly describe the work of two project teams. First, we’ll describe the work of adapting OHMS for the emerging Michigan Iranian-American Oral History Project, a digital collection to be hosted on Mardigian Library’s Oral Histories Collection web page. We’ll address the customization of the OHMS Viewer and the separate work of transcribing, translation and subtitling that is underway to make the interviews as accessible and discoverable as possible. Second, we’ll describe the creation of MISI, which began as project to make a local Iranian-American bilingual newsletter, the Persia House of Michigan Faslnameh, part of Mardigian’s digital collection but has evolved toward the development of an open-source software application that could serve a variety communities seeking to preserve and share their multilingual content. We will cover the both design priorities that have gone into MISI and the process we’ve established to index the PHOM Faslnameh content bilingually. What unites these two projects is their focus on the Iranian-American Community and we will close with some examples to illustrate how these sources can complement each other to illustrate the “real time” and historical fluidity of Iranian-American identity as it is expressed in the use of language. There is not a simple Persian-English bilingualism here, but an interplay of Perisans and Englishes. Our main presentation is organized into three segments; plus there is “bonus material” featuring conversations on details from both projects (as well as a tangent or two!).
Camron Michael Amin joined the faculty at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 1997. He currently serves as the coordinator of the Middle East Studies Certificate Program, principal investigator for the Michigan Iranian American Oral History Project and the past president of the Association for Iranian Studies (2021). He is also on the board of the Michigan Oral History Association.
Patrick Armatis is the systems administrator for the Mardigian Library at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Hussein Hourani just completed his BS in Computer and Information Science from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and is starting his career as a full stack developer for the Ford Motor Company.
Heidi Keppen is the user services supervisor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn Mardigian Library.
Graham Liddell is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on contemporary narratives of displacement, and he works with Arabic- and Persian-language texts and interview material. He spent much of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 conducting fieldwork with asylum seekers in Greece.
Holly Sorscher is the associate director of the Mardigian Library at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Tim Streasick is the electronic resources librarian at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.