Friday, January 20, 2012

Anecdata: Oral History Methods in the Sciences

[The following is the abstract I just submitted for the Oral History Association conference in Cleveland in October. If you haven't gotten your abstract in, today is the last day...]

Anecdata: Oral History Methods in the Sciences

Although oral history is increasingly accepted as valid form of evidence, it is still a foreign concept in the the sciences. Yet all the arguments Portelli makes for "what makes oral history different" must not apply only to the humanities. This is especially true now, as digital tools allow for more direct and robust indexing of recordings. In the study of Ecological Restoration (ER), researchers are trying to understand complex problems with limited data. Even where advanced theory and modeling has been established, there are gaps in knowledge and a lack of input amongst all relevant stakeholders. Through a partnership with members of the Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) Program at the University at Buffalo, we are exploring the use oral histories to evaluate ER projects in terms of the human values driving them. We are applying methods of annotation and theme mapping used in our oral history practice to the open-ended recorded interviews of ER practitioners. In this paper, we will discuss how use of a database approach to content management not only serves as a means of efficient access to oral history collections, but also turn anecdotes literally into data.

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