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Oral history

Managing, preserving and editing recordings

Once you have completed an interview, upload the recording for digital storage as soon as possible. Make backup copies and save them in different locations.

It’s useful to maintain a folder on your computer (and other digital storage areas) for each interviewee. An interviewee’s folder should include: 

  • A document listing the interviewee’s full name, date of birth, the place and date of the interview, the interviewer’s name and the equipment used to make the recording
  • The signed recording agreement
  • Any email correspondence between the interviewer and the interviewee
  • A time-coded summary text of the interview
  • A preservation (or master) copy of the recording. This should be of the highest possible quality.
  • An access copy of the recording – access copies are lower in sound quality but are much smaller and easier to share with researchers. They are usually created in mp3 format.
  • Keep copies in at least one further location – in total you should have one preservation copy plus at least one access copy. 

Ask the interviewee if they would like an mp3 copy of the interview, or a summary of it. This will allow them to go through what they have said and flag up any sections that they would like to be temporarily closed. If this is the case, you can edit the access version of the interview to remove these sections and remove the relevant text from the summary.

See our digitisation guide for best-practice tips on storing and managing digital files (although this guide focuses on digitising documents, most principles for saving and managing digital recordings are the same).

Audio editing software 

There are many examples of audio editing software. Some are free and open source, meaning you can download them straight onto your computer, but it’s good to do some research into the best options. You can use them to tidy up the recording if there were interruptions, join separate files together, pull out sound bites, or mute sections which should be closed for public access.

Find out more about and download Audacity

When editing it’s up to you whether you take out the ‘ums’ and ‘uh-huhs’ – you may only wish to do this for a 30-second clip to put on your website. You don’t have to necessarily do this for the entire interview. Remember to keep the preservation copy unedited.

You should also consider the interviewee’s moral rights - you shouldn’t alter the meaning of what they are saying by editing their words. For example, taking out the word ‘not’ in the sentence ‘I was not happy living there’ would completely change what they are trying to say.

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