Sharing Stories

Immigrant Stories, a project by the Minnesota Digital Library, seeks to highlight and preserve the oral histories of its residents. Notably, it does so through audio and video content put together by the people who tell those stories. In short, often three to five minute videos, a person tells their story (or a story from their family) while showing images and video that relate. I previously discussed the malleability of authenticity as a construct rather than essence, but the D.I.Y. nature of these records does possess a certain kind of vitality. The storytellers are connected to the crafted narrative as not just subjects, but rather creators, and that’s crucial to the reason why they work well, even when elements of the experience are rough or less professional.

The format is also a pretty distinct departure from other oral history archives, such as Duke University Libraries’ Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South. The difference in intended audience most clearly drives this difference. Where Behind the Veil provides a great resource for scholars in a clean, straight-forward interface, it is still primarily limited to that smaller audience. The interviews are often over an hour long and structured in the form and flow of a conversation, contrasting with the concise and curated five-minute experiences of Immigrant Stories. Immigrant Stories is clearly intended for a broader public, with the short videos much more accessible — and importantly for a resource in 2016, much more easily shareable.

However, that’s also the most obvious limitation that I see. The site itself has very little sense of social media integration. To some degree the stories feel disconnected from a bigger internet ecosystem. Some of this may be due to the nature of the project — when looking on Youtube, I was able to find more information, including tutorials intended to help people interested in making their own videos. But this resource isn’t really directly linked to the site itself. With content like this that seems to be so directly constructed as to be shareable, the site itself should provide tools to facilitate that: ways to easily post to Facebook or Twitter, for instance. The only rationale I can see for this oversight is due to questions of privacy and control, which admittedly raise some issues. Yet the final step in terms of making this archive thrive would be to find a way to better connect the important, personal stories that it holds to both the communities it serves and the larger community that would benefit from hearing new perspectives.

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