Freie Universität Berlin Celebrates the Launch of New Interview Portal ’Oral-History.Digital’

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The "Oral-History.Digital" platform collects audiovisual life story interviews for use as research data

The new online "Oral-History.Digital" platform was officially launched at Freie Universität Berlin on Monday, September 25, 2023. The interview portal, which is being funded by the German Research Foundation, makes first-person accounts collected at different institutions and projects available in one place. "Oral-History.Digital" is currently made up of over 2,000 narrative interviews with witnesses to different historical periods, survivors of National Socialism, employees at Berlin’s museums, miners from the industrial Ruhr area, professors, punks, non-combat "construction soldiers" from the former GDR, and refugees from Ukraine. The expansion of the platform is underway.

Museums, universities, and foundations are now able to upload their audio and video interviews with transcripts and accompanying material to the new research platform, edit them using transcription and metadata tagging tools, and make them more widely available for education and research purposes. Researchers can browse the interview collections using filters or full-text search, watch them with subtitles, annotate them, and create citations.

Narrative interviews - a key method of oral history - serve as important sources in historical research and other disciplines, as well as in exhibitions and educational projects. Unfortunately, these sources are typically scattered across many different institutions, difficult to track down, and can only be used on site. "Oral-History.Digital" makes these interviews findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable as audiovisual research data. A sophisticated rights management system protects the privacy of the interviewees, while long-term archiving ensures that the files will be available for posterity.

Six partner institutions are involved in "Oral-History.Digital." The largest oral history institutions in Germany - such as the University Library of Freie Universität Berlin, the "Deutsches Gedächtnis" archive at the FernUniversität in Hagen, and the "Werkstatt der Erinnerung" at the Institute for Contemporary History in Hamburg - are contributing their extensive oral history collections to a joint research infrastructure. Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg is testing the research environment for a study on the oral history of migration. The Bavarian Archive for Speech Signals at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München is supporting the interview archives with long-term archiving and speech recognition, while the Chair of Media Informatics at Universität Bamberg is responsible for data modeling and interfaces to

The president of Freie Universität Berlin, Professor Günter M. Ziegler stated, "Freie Universität Berlin is helping to make a diverse array of narrative interviews from witnesses to different historical eras available with the ’Oral-History.Digital’ portal. The platform will also support research projects within and outside of the university in archiving, processing, and making testimonies easier to access. This is an important step forward for us as a university in expanding our expertise in subjects such as cultures of remembrance, oral history, and digital humanities. We began this process seventeen years ago, when we helped to make the USC Shoah Foundation’s ’Visual History Archive’ available in 2006. Back then, Freie Universität Berlin was the first institution outside of the US where researchers, instructors, and students had the archive’s 53,000 video interviews with survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides at their fingertips. Four thousand testimonials from the renowned Fortunoff Archive at Yale University were also made accessible. By making these invaluable historical resources available, we at Freie Universität hope to acknowledge our historical responsibility as a ’free’ university located in the former capital of Nazi Germany."

The executive director of the University Library at Freie Universität, Dr. Andreas Brandtner, added, "The University Library of Freie Universität Berlin has a highly visible and unique resource on its hands that we hope to consolidate in the long term, with the potential to further develop it into a center for oral history. We would like to take inspiration from our counterparts in the US in this respect, where oral history departments have been an important feature of university libraries such as Yale, Columbia, and Berkeley since the 1970s."

The "Oral-History. Over the course of the second funding phase, which will last until 2026, its user community will be expanded and its software consolidated. New functionalities will further optimize the editing and search options. Freie Universität Berlin will continue to offer and maintain the infrastructure as an academic service for researchers and archive partners, resulting in a sustainable, long-term operating model.