VirtualDayz

I explore media in transition. My research encompasses film, video, print, digital arts, and the web. I'm interested in what artists and writers are doing and in what critics and scholars are saying.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"In the First Person," A Database

I recently discovered In the First Person: An Index to Letters, Diaries, Oral Histories and Personal Narratives, a free online database of holdings in archives, repositories, and personal collections. A Top 100 list of the most popular links on the site considers usage since January 2004, when, I presume, Alexander Street Press launched the project. Dedicated to resources produced in English, the current release indexes more than 2,500 collections of oral history from around the world. According to In the First Person’s Web site, future releases will broaden the scope of the database to include other forms of first-person texts, such as letters, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and personal narratives, and in this way “make it possible to find and explore the voices of more than 300,000 individuals.”

The five most popular links on the site as of May 2005 were:

Less prominent on the Top 100 list were several links pertaining to the performing arts, including Bennington Summer School of the Dance Project (#33), Mercury Theatre/Theatre Union Project (#37), and Popular Arts Project, Part I (#39), all archived at Columbia University.

During the same time period, January 2004–May 2005, the top five interviews were:

The sixth most popular interview was Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History. A few other interviews I found interesting on the diverse list included: Eleanor Roosevelt Press Conferences Group Interview (1989, #8 on list), Women in Journalism Oral History Project; David Rieff (son of Susan Sontag and Philip Rieff, 2003, #18), Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley; and Alice Paul (1972, #75), Suffragists Oral History Project, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

While recognizing the educational, scholarly, and historical value of In the First Person, I’m also intrigued by the range of voices the database makes available for creative projects, especially with regard to database narratives presented as digital art, e-literature, and soft(ware) cinema. I’m interested less in data mining such a public resource than in selectively using its contents to assemble rich databases that lend themselves to innovative applications vis-à-vis individual or collective life stories. A related approach that also interests me involves the construction of personal multimedia databases as source material for autobiographical and biographical narratives (whether “real” or imagined). In other words, one model taps into public databases for source material, and another model taps into private archives, although these categories are fluid and allow for all kinds of intermixing. Please feel free to recommend relevant sites.


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