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Symposium on New Archival and Ethnographic Technologies
A New York Folklore Society Forum

The Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY
June 9, 2006



Symposium on New Archival and Ethnographic Technologies
  • Friday, June 9th, 2006
    9:30 to 3:30 with lunch on site
    The Henry A. Wallace Center at the
    FDR Presidential Library and Home in Hyde Park, New York

Our Keynote Speaker was Dr. Michael Frisch, Professor of History and American Studies and Senior Research Scholar, at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. The New Archival and Ethnographic Technologies Symposium was one culmination of New York Folklore Society’s Archive Appraisal and Improvement Initiative. Archivists and folklorists participating in the DHP Initiative in 2005 and 2006 were invited to attend, along with archivists, oral historians, and folklorists at other institutions and organizations across the state.

The New York Folklore Society presented its June 2006 Symposium on New Archival and Ethnographic Technologies Friday, June 9th, 2006, at the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home in Hyde Park, NY. Further information on the site is available at: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/index.html.
Michael Frisch Dr. Michael Frisch is Principal of The Randforce Associates LLC, based in the UB Technology Incubator, where he has been pioneering new ways of digitally indexing audio and video documentation.

Working initially to extend the uses of Interclipper, digital indexing software developed for market research, the Randforce team is now combining a variety of digital tools to meet the diverse challenges of projects that range from oral history to ethnographic collections to qualitative analysis in public health and social science. His presentation explored the transformative implications of new capacities for working with audio and video documentation.

During the symposium, participants in the 2005 NYFS DHP (Documentary Heritage Program) Initiative, a grant-funded statewide archive appraisal and improvement project, were given time to meet and discuss their experiences. We devoted an afternoon session to learning more about the Ethnographic Thesaurus Project at the Library of Congress. Frisch’s abstract and bio are given below.

We thank the FDR Library and Home for their willingness to host our symposium at the Wallace Center.

Keynote Abstract:

Putting the “Oral” Back in Oral History and Other Recuperations of The Primary, or, How Emerging Information Technologies Transform Folkloric, Ethnographic, and Oral History Collections

Audio and video documentation is conventionally encountered in one of two states—relatively “raw,” in archived collections, and relatively “cooked,” in constructed, selective, and linear documentary forms. In this presentation, I discuss and demonstrate how new digital tools open an important non-linear, multi-pathed ground between these poles. By permitting direct indexing, cross-referencing, and searchable access to audio and video documentation—to collections of recorded voice or music and, in video, to bodies, gestures, performance, and non-verbal demonstrations—these tools stand in sharp contrast to conventional modes grounded in the limited (and limiting) world of text transcription and broad-brush content summaries.

Because audio/video indexing means the entire content can be usefully, intelligently, and instrumentally mapped and searched, archival documentation becomes something more than a “raw” collection. And the same tools make it much easier to “cook”—to explore a collection, select and order meaningful materials, and export them instantly for a range of presentational or analytic purposes. In this way, documentary exploration and representation becomes a far more democratically sharable process.

I argue that these dramatic new tools restore the rich primacy of audio and video documentation in folklore, ethnography, and oral history collections, leading to powerfully transformative dimensions of analysis, utility, engagement, and presentation. As such, they promise to narrow dramatically the distance between the archival and the scholarly, at one end, and public access, educational use, and community engagement at the other.

Michael H. Frisch is Professor of History and American Studies/ Senior Research Scholar at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. He is an American social and urban historian who has been involved for many years in oral and public history projects, often in collaboration with community history organizations, museums, and documentary filmmakers. His urban history and public/oral history interests came together in Portraits in Steel (1993), a book and associated GANYS exhibit in collaboration with the noted documentary photographer Milton Rogovin. The project documented in oral history and photographic portraiture the lives of Buffalo area steelworkers before and after the plant closings of the 1980s; it received the Oral History Association’s Best Book prize for 1993-1995. Frisch is the author of A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (1990). He has served as editor of the Oral History Review (1986-1996); as President of the American Studies Association (2000-2001); and as a board member for the New York Council for the Humanities and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. His recent work in new oral history applications of new media technology is being developed through his consulting office, The Randforce Associates, LLC, based in the University at Buffalo’s Technology Incubator.

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