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.


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