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Stephen F. Austin State University

History and Technology (November 2012)

History and Technology
By Deborah Burkett

At first glance these two words, history and technology, would seem to have little in common; words at opposite ends of a spectrum in time. In reality if history is to be preserved for future generations, technology and all it offers needs to be utilized to the fullest.

For many years the members of the Cherokee County Historical Commission (CCHC) have been diligent in their efforts to collect and preserve the images and stories of local citizens and communities. Numerous oral histories were recorded using analog devices or cassette tape recorders. These focused on Veterans and their military memories as well as local citizens and everyday life in Cherokee County. In addition, the CCHC collected historical photographs, film negatives, print images, and conducted original research. To ensure that this history was accessible to the public at large, they published books, articles, and gave historical talks.

As the world changes rapidly, due in a large part to computer technology, the collection and preservation of history is changing. New recording technology is here. Digital recordings of oral and video interviews provide a much better quality and are more long lasting than recordings made on analog tape media. In addition, we have more historical information at our fingertips today. The World Wide Web offers quick access to a wealth of historical knowledge. One can trace their ancestors and place them in historical context, while learning more about those times politically and culturally. For example, one can identify which regiment a great grandfather served with during the War Between the States or trace that same family line to the War of 1812 and the American Revolution. Historical documents such as journals, deeds, and tax records are also available on the Web. There are even Web sites offering help in identifying blood relatives utilizing DNA technology.

It is important to keep abreast of these changes. At workshops presented by Baylor University's Institute for Oral History, members of the CCHC learned about (1) the overall importance of digital technology, (2) transferring analog tapes to digital technology, (3) audio and video digitizing equipment and software, and (4) data management techniques. This information has assisted the Commission in its efforts to move into the digital age. To date, analog taped interviews have been converted to CDs and over 125 oral history video interviews have been recorded and are now being transferred to DVDs. These are made available to the public in multiple ways: interviews may be accessed at the CCHC office or checked out; DVDs of edited interviews related to certain topics will be developed for use in traveling exhibits and presentations. Copies of all DVDs, along with transcriptions of interviews will be placed in the CCHC's archives and made available for research purposes and posted on the Web.

If Cherokee County history is to be saved and shared with future generations, the newest technology should be a part of our overall efforts, and we need not be intimidated. The important thing to remember is that history and its preservation is worth the effort. So whether you are an accomplished local historian, an educator, or an individual interested in preserving your own family stories you now have more tools at your disposal.

To facilitate your search for information regarding oral history preservation the following web sites are provided. The Institute for Oral History at Baylor University web site is www.baylor.edu/Oral History . Since 1970, the Institute for Oral History has implemented many projects and recorded interviews from a variety of individuals and cultural groups. The Institute faculty and staff are leaders in this field throughout the state and across the country. Another site to visit is the Texas Legacy Project www.texaslegacy.org. This is an on-line collection of edited and raw, streaming and down loadable video, audio, and photographic records regarding conservation of timber and other resources in Texas. The Conservation History Association of Texas sponsored this collection of interviews with the people who have shaped and those who are continuing to protect natural resources. Another site related to oral history is www.doingoralhistory.org .This address will lead to many oral history sites of interest.

Another recommendation is Daniel Cohen's book Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving and Presenting the Past on the Web. This book and many oral history projects that Dr. Cohen has been involved with are accessible on the Web; one well known oral history project was the September 11 Digital Archive Project. His book takes the reader step by step through planning a project, understanding the technologies involved, choosing the appropriate technologies and designing a site that is easy to use. Copyright laws are also discussed in terms of historical material. Dr. Cohen provides basic guidance for ensuring that the digital history being created will not disappear in a few years.

It truly is a new era. Constantly changing technology enables us to communicate and interact as never before; future generations will benefit from what we do now to preserve our past.