As technology advances, the recording of oral histories has changed as well. While oral history is one of the most ancient forms of collecting information, the digital age has revolutionized the process of collecting and archiving oral histories. With the utilization of the internet, oral histories are now more available for dissemination than ever before. However, ease of access does not come without new challenges. Many of the best practices are “moving targets” as Doug Boyd, director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries, says in his video about oral history in the digital age. For example, although television quality video is shot at 720 pixels, all computer screens are now operating on 1080 pixels, so a 720p video will look blurry even to a nine year old laptop. Essentially, as technology improves, audio and video quality improve, which means the expectations for audio and video are higher than ever. This blog post will address all of the technological components necessary for our project. Additionally, each suggestion aims to achieve the high standard set by the best practices created by Oral History in the Digital Age.
As I mentioned above, professional video is shot at 1080 pixels and should not shake, zoom in or out, or pan from side to side frequently. Therefore, a tripod is absolutely necessary for all interview videos as is a professional quality camera (Canon Vixia HF R21). Shooting quality video is about more than pixels though. Videographers should keep in mind three main things. First, make sure the lighting does not create dark shadows on the interviewee’s face. Second, check that the background does not have any reflective surfaces or bright (daylight) points. Last, remember to frame your shot so that the interviewee is not too small or large in the frame and to add interest, do not always seat your interviewee in the center of the frame. In other words, remember the rule of thirds.
Audio is the one aspect of the videos that requires special attention. Audio quality really makes or breaks a video and it is one of the most difficult things to get right. Monitoring audio levels is the most important thing to remember when recording audio. The highest level of audio a microphone will record is called the peak and the lowest is the floor. Audio should be recorded as close to the peak as possible without hitting it. When volume levels hit the peak, it is called clipping and it can damage audio recordings. For interview situations, Boyd suggests that peak levels should be set between -12 decibels and -6 decibels. While many cameras come with a microphone attached, an external mic, preferably a lavalier mic, should be used for quality sound. For our project, because it does involve interviews, we should use a stereo mic because it records left and right separately and adds more depth to the recording. For internet uploading, we should create compressed files that have a 16 bit depth minimum. (More details on this can be found in the notes.)
Of course, not all of our interviews will be conducted in person. It is possible to record interviews over Facetime or Skype using Quicktime to record the screen, however this will result in poor audio and video quality so interviews should be conducted in person as much as possible.
Finally, and probably most important, data should be backed up and saved not only on the hard drive of a computer but on an external hard drive (a terabyte hard drive will probably be necessary) and on DVD’s as well. While many videos and essays have been created to address the issue of file form and video size, every digital camera I have listed in the notes will create standard file forms that will be appropriate for data storage as well as internet use.
The thing to keep in mind about all of the technological aspects is that it seems easy but there are always complications that arise. It is important to practice using the equipment before the actual interview and to understand all of our options for recording. Most of the equipment available to us at Denison will provide us with professional, lasting video if we make sure to practice with it and take our time setting it up to get the best quality videos we can. The majority of the time it will not be necessary to understand decibel levels, bit rates, fps, technical jargon etc. but should a complication arise, I have included that information here, simply as a reference point. For those more specific details, see the notes.