Memoire Projects


Digital Archive of Living Memory

OSU Special Collections & Archives

Our long-term flagship project MEMOIRE is dedicated to creating a digital archive of in-depth biographical interviews with members of the birth cohorts from 1915-2002. Through these interviews we are seeking to capture the living memory of our time and make it sustainably accessible to the public. At the same time, all of the interviews will be supplemented and enriched by digitalized press articles, autographs and additional archive material going beyond individual recollections.

In turn, every single interview is embedded in its historical context, thus offering viewers the opportunity to compare general with individual, biographically mediated perspectives, and also to check information against the sources.

Our interview films will not be cut, but instead digitally sequenced and tagged. Sequences taken from the interviews can thus be allotted to a specific annual tier where they can be compared with other accounts referencing the same times and dates. This way different passages taken from different interviews may go to form a cross-generational profile spanning a total of 87 years (depending, for instance, on a user’s freely chosen search terms).

There is multitude of aspects by which narrations can be studied and compared: for example, the archive documents how generations are formed and what makes them distinct from others, how views and attitudes differ and vary between birth cohorts with regard to the same historical event. Alternatively, users have the opportunity, of course, to stick with a single interview (instead of switching between sequences). Likewise, they may choose what items to study – be it conversational sequences or digital copies of everyday objects. So, they may, for example, be curious about what members of very different birth cohorts, from different educational backgrounds and social tiers and who hold various religious beliefs or sexual identities have to say about a concept like “family”; they may also compare these concepts historically and freely search for topics, issues and events that they are interested in.

Our interviewees naturally speak an everyday language, which makes, however, for a special feat of the archive: the accounts of life stories (and, implicitly, of history) rendered in a speech close to everyday life and subjectively reported may lower the barriers to engage in history and questions of society for those people who would ordinarily find such subject matters too complicated or abstract to deal with. An easy-to-use interface is supposed to supplement this idea of accessibility and maybe to stimulate people to “give history a try”.

Our platform will initially offer video sequences sorted by the year which an interviewee’s first memory dates from, beginning with the oldest memories and moving up from there. If a sequence is selected (by click), viewers can choose wether to watch the entire interview one person gives or to switch between different sequences dating from the same year. As a “side dish” we offer suggestions for tags by which to search the archive and there will be a separate column presenting the digital copies of those items that correspond with the narration. Viewers may freely switch between these content categories and will be able to easily navigate back and forth between them and back to the home page. Lastly, since all our interviews will be method-controlled, they will also meet general scientific standards – and they can be used this way – scientifically – as well.

At this stage, we are construing the prototype for our platform – encompassing 243 high quality video interviews nationwide and filmed at high resolution. For this purpose, we are setting up a cooperative network of 5 central academic locations, partnering with both social affairs and design colleges so that within a radius of 100km interview partners can be easily reached and visited.
Our project will be financed through foundations and investors, complemented by corresponding university budgets. In addition, we are looking to apply for funding by scientific funds working in this field.

Based on the prototype we are hoping to be able in the long run to update and replenish the archive with further interviews and to inspire analogous archive models in other nations and languages which could eventually be synchronized toward a European living memory archive. To spur this internationalist impetus MEMOIRE will provide English subtitles and translations for all contents right from the beginning.

If you have any further questions regarding the project and its conception, please contact Alex Aßmann (who will be glad to answer them):

Alex Aßmann

Photo: OSU Special Collections & Archives