The United States of AIDS: Digitizing ACT UP Oral History

Sunday, January 4, 2015
2nd Floor Promenade (New York Hilton)
Norma Juarez, New School
Guy Greenberg, New School
Digitizing ACT UP Oral History is a student-led project housed in the Humanities Action Lab in the School of Undergraduate Studies at The New School for Public Engagement.  It uses digital tools to make the public memory of AIDS and AIDS activism during the 1980s and 1990s available to a broader audience. In collaboration with the ACT UP Oral History Project, and under the direction of historian Claire Potter, our objective is to preserve and promote the oral history of the AIDS crisis, and make it useful to history students at all levels. Ultimately this will include uploading the digital videos and transcripts to an oral history platform to make them searchable; creating a thematic index; writing short biographies of the activists; and editing an accessibly written volume of essays that explain keywords for AIDS and ACT UP.

Our proposal for the AHA Poster Session 2015 is tailored to our use of software developed by Doug Boyd of Kentucky University’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History known as the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS). OHMS is a web-based program that performs three distinct operations: a) streaming video/audio playback, b) synced integration of transcripts that makes the text and corresponding locations in the video searchable, and c) indexing which breaks the interview into topic segments, assigns keywords, subjects, and external links via tags to the video's time code.  Currently, we are in the design phase, which will be complete by January 2015, when the AHA meets in New York. We would welcome the interaction with other digital scholars and scholars of the AIDS crisis that a poster session would afford.

As students leading this project, we have also developed a passion for the material.  Creating indexes, subjects, and keyword for the enhancement of our viewer has been a way of gaining deep knowledge of this important history, and we want to share it with others. The project has also pushed us to think about how a web platform functions as an agent for facilitating research. OHMS insures that the visual and aural evidence is never separated from text produced from it, whether that is a transcript or an index. In OHMS it is still possible to read the materials without ever pressing "play" but the design promotes the video by putting it front and center. While scanning text dramatically saves time when searching for a particular word or idea the synchronization of video material makes it practical to look at both. To not do so would actually be a missed opportunity. We believe that viewing, as opposed to just reading, an oral history improves the research and the argument to be made from it.

Our target audiences are researchers, students, community historians, activists, and former members of ACT UP. We believe in the importance of preservation as well as having students with a passion for collective documentation.  We are also creating a model for returning research to its community of origin.

See more of: Poster Session #1
See more of: AHA Sessions