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The Multimedia Archive

It is not yet clear if the public or the scholarly community will regard the use of video in oral history as diminishing its academic credibility, or as enhancing its scope and use. This Web site is one test of how oral history on video will be received. Nevertheless it is clear that video should never completely replace audio or the written narrative. Citations and quotations still must come from transcripts rather than from video or audio. People explore their life histories more freely while speaking on audiotape or working with transcripts, so we do not ask speakers to sign legal releases until they have read and edited their transcripts. This process reflects our ethical position that people own their words until they agree to release them. Oral historians respect speakers' continuing rights to their narratives, which are in a way living portraits of their life histories. The option for speakers to close interviews for a period of years is vital to obtaining an in-depth history.

Traditionally, the OHRO has allowed its interviewees to close all or portions of their interviews for many years, and this closure has provided great freedom for people to interpret the meaning of philanthropic work. To use only video and require that the entire interview be released immediately would diminish the mission of oral history, which is partly to obtain information on the recent past that can be disseminated right away, but is mostly to create resources for historians and scholars fifty years from now. Oral historians can ask the questions that they think historians and scholars will be interested in fifty years from now, and that act of imagination is rooted in the process of allowing people to determine how and when their interviews will be used. Offering our subjects control over their interview transcripts allows them to freely explore their history, and establish a record that will be viable fifty and one hundred years from now. On the other hand, visual oral history allows us to fulfill the mission of oral history to disseminate knowledge widely and to work actively to create understanding. The transformation of the paper archive into a multimedia portal on the past kindles new conversations about those aspects of the past that are most relevant to the present. Together, these methodologies represent the best standards in oral-history practice as they have evolved over nearly six decades.