Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project Digital Media Database, Kentucky Oral History Commission

By Larson, Mary A. | The Oral History Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project Digital Media Database, Kentucky Oral History Commission


Larson, Mary A., The Oral History Review


Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project Digital Media Database, Kentucky Oral History Commission (http://205.204.134.47/ civil_rights_mvt/).

The project represented by this Web site was an immense undertaking. Begun in 1998 by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC) in partnership with the University of Louisville, the goal was to document the struggle to end legal segregation in the state of Kentucky. The original project generated over 250 interviews, amounting to 350 hours of audio, 40 hours of video, and 10,000 transcript pages, and the commission also produced a documentary in 2001 entitled Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. It was distributed to schools in the state and was also broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television (KET) on numerous occasions.

In an effort to make the original oral history materials accessible to researchers, teachers, students, and the interested general public, KOHC a created a Web site which has, at its core, an impressive database currently containing more than half of the interviews It is organized by fields which indicate the chronicler's name, the format of a particular selection, the interview's catalog number, the decade covered in the recording, the county under discussion, and a description of the interview contents. All fields are searchable, and different search results can be sorted according to all of the above criteria (except for the description). The database organizes not only complete transcripts in a handy PDF format, but also audio and video excerpts of selected material.

The database itself would have been a considerable achievement on its own, but the KOHC went one step further and did something very important. They made an attempt to contextualize all of this information so that viewers of the site could better understand the material presented. They arranged the interviews by section, including "Life Under Segregation," "Desegregation of Education," "Public Accommodations," "Open Housing," and "Protests and Demonstrations" (with an additional option of selecting "All Video"). Each topic's main page contains a list of the relevant interviews along with a short statement providing historical background on the material being presented, thus adding meaning to the audio, video, and text that follow without being overly interpretive.

The creators of this site have obviously taken great care with the process of selecting audio and video excerpts, as all of the segments this reviewer played were of good quality and retained their meanings well outside of the confines of the larger recordings or transcripts. This is not always easily done, but by providing the introductions to the topics and short descriptions of each chronicler's selections, the site allows these audio and video portions to stand alone.

Beyond the database and the oral histories themselves, the site contains some very useful components for educators. Through a link to the KET site, which houses companion material for Living the Story, teachers can find a wide array of curriculum, including ten different lesson plans covering primary, intermediate, middle, and high school levels. …

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