Saturday, January 30, 2010

Video Biographies: What to do with inidividual accounts of history?

Last week, I gave a talk on 'Using Video to Preserve Our Family History' to a very warm and lively branch of the Rotary Club. And one of the questions that I was asked towards the end was how to make individual accounts of personal history count on a larger scale. More precisely, how to make the story of one's life accessible to the community at large.

A wonderfully insightful question, I thought. After all, there is a lot to be learned from life, and not just one's own.

There are a number of ways to make your story count. Below are just a few that I know of or have heard of... but don't just take my word for it! The idea is to get you thinking - I'd strongly recommend reading up more about them on their websites or speaking with a representative to know the true behind-the-scene workings.

Within Austin, there is the wonderful Austin History Center (AHC - where community archives are greatly valued, appreciated and preserved. Whether it is a written memoir, a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, oral recordings or whatever other ingenious means of recording one's story one comes up with, the AHC is a great place to make a contribution to... and as far as I can understand, they are happy to receive originals or make copies of them.

There is also the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Austin - with a handy link on their website ( to more information about why one should consider donating personal records and what to keep in mind etc.

Oh and I've heard good things about the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University, though it sounds like at the moment they only accept recordings that meet certain guidelines they've set for themselves. Their website has information about an upcoming online introductory workshop - 'Getting Started with Oral History' (

The Veterans History Project ( is an initiative to collect and preserve records of war from people actively involved in it in order to create a better understanding of the realities of war for future generations. They offer a variety of ways in which people can contribution their stories.

Other organizations to look into include The American Folklife Center ( and StoryCorps ( This list is very preliminary - and are just a few organizations that come immediately to mind. There are many more! But the idea is to get those wheels turning... and if anyone has any other places that they know of, please write in to me and I'll be happy to add them.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Video Biographies: From Austin to India

So where have I been this whole past month? India. Chicago. A little town called Shelbyville. And now safely and happily back home in Austin.

Most of the trip was to visit family and to feel like a little girl once again, sleeping in 'my room' back in my parents' home. But a little part of the vacation was reserved for work.

I had been approached by a gentleman right here in Austin whose father lived in India, and well more specifically, right in the city where I grew up - New Delhi. When you ponder about the size of America and India, and then the number of people who live in each of these countries, and then the number of cities in both of these places... it felt like karma that I just happened to be visiting the very city his father would be visiting at the exact same time of the year when he's always there! So obviously, I was very excited to create his own, unique Video Biography.

And even though the worlds we inhabited were so extremely different from each other, even though we had grown up in different times in history... even though he was 50 odd years older than I am... there is something so wonderfully universal about life that the 2 hours interview session flew by without us running out of conversation. The main focus of the Video Biography was to be his career in the police service - and indeed the stories of run-ins with criminals, corrupt officials, and so on were fascinating. But more so were his memories of his childhood. His parents. The story behind his marriage. And a special message to his grandchildren.

There is something wonderfully universal about life... be it family, love or an inherent desire to do what is right. And it's stories like this one that make you pause and remember that. And be thankful for it.