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How Video Affects the Process

The luxury of oral history in traditional audio form is that it mimics the most intimate of conversations to the extent that it can seem that no one is going to ever hear or read the interview. The interviewer's job therefore is to constantly remind interviewees that they are speaking to history. But in front of the camera no reminders are necessary; indeed, one of the benefits of visual oral history is that speakers are more conscious of the interview process. If not handled well, the interviewees can get nervous about speaking to the public and this can detract from the experience. But when handled correctly, when people are given the time and luxury to prepare, there are advantages to reminding people that they are speaking to a larger public. Imagining the public as one's audience sharpens the mind and one's ability to speak to the urgent matters of history.

The disadvantage of video is that it seems to discourage leisurely reflection because the time-money relationship is salient for most oral historians. Simply put, video is a much more expensive medium to work in. One may notice that interviewees' pace of speech is faster before a camera than on audiotape , because they are conscious of the time-money relationship of video and of the need to speak succinctly. They may not digress as often as they would have on audio into the personal stories that oral historians relish; it is often through these digressive anecdotes that we understand people's motivations, how human consciousness develops and how leadership forms. So we still need the more relaxed audio format in which we can make those explorations. The differences may seem subtle at first, but closely examining the process shows that they are substantive. For some of the interviews presented on this site, multiple sessions were conducted on audio before and after the video sessions. Researchers coming to the archive can compare the differences between audio and video testimony where an interviewee has been interviewed in both formats, and can analyze the differences for themselves.