HomeSeminar Series8 June 2022

8 June 2022

MDOH: The Forward-View with Douglas Lambert and Alexander Freund

The first in the Multimodal Digital Oral History seminar series welcomed speakers Douglas Lambert (University of Buffalo) and Alexander Freund (University of Winnipeg).

The recording of the seminar can be accessed here: Multimodal Digital Oral History: The Forward-View Seminar 1

Firstly, Douglas’ paper, Audio/video thematic indexing: meaning mapping for oral history access and usage, introduced the recent history of indexing for oral history recording as well as an overview of some key indexing software that he has been involved in developing through his own research career and with The Randforce Associates. These are:, Interclipper, OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchroniser) and TIM (Timecoding Indexing Module). Speaking to multimodality, Douglas made the point that, in working on different projects, ‘there was no single silver bullet software to be made, you had to always think about combining software and combining tools to make things work…’ He also discussed different conceptual models for indexing, such as the Unit/Story approach to define passages in the oral history interview, and the Non-linear Model that allows for multiple reuses and re-interpretation of an interview. He further discussed segment synopses, metadata tagging, and timecode indexing using OHMS. Douglas concluded by looking back to Frisch’s ‘post-documentary sensibility’ (2006) and asked how sustainable such an idea is, and that we might think of ourselves as cartographers mapping multiple pathways across oral history interview materials. He looked to hybrid models of indexing and transcription and multimedia displays, and suggested that the indexer and the user might be replaced by the ‘cartographer’ and the ‘explorer’.

Alexander’s paper, Historicizing modalities: a few thoughts on oral history under surveillance capitalism, discussed three interlinked aspects of the oral history interview: the political functions of transcripts and archives, the interview as a technology of the self, and the commodification of personal data online. This paper was born of a need to place the methods and the tools we use for oral history in their historical context in order to better understand assumptions and unintended consequences of doing oral history, especially now in an online environment of unregulated internet corporations and commodification of data. Drawing on Foucauldian ideas of the modern subject created by technologies of the self, Alexander traced the emergence of a mass culture of confession and an interview society from the Roman Catholic institution of confession, through state administrations, 19th century medical analyses, and contemporary social media platforms. He asked: ‘If agents of the state have been using for centuries the tools of interviewing, archiving, and indexing to report, pathologize, criminalise, and control people, then what are the implications for oral historians making use of exactly the same tools?’ Finally, Alexander discussed how oral history has become caught up in technologies of surveillance through the political economy of surveillance capitalism, heralded by internet corporations like Google, and lastly reflected on the limitations of the promises of digital technologies, and informed consent in this context, and how oral historians might carve out spaces of autonomy in such a world.

Questions that followed included whether we can speak of standardisation across different oral history indexing systems; whether a paradigm of ‘technologies of the self’ helps us to broaden our understanding of the role of social media platforms as artefacts in processes of self-formation; what might be lost in centring indexing over the full transcription; questions concerning subjectivity and the in/visibility of the interviewer, indexer, or transcriber; and whether oral history can escape the dangers of commodification in a digital world.

- Hannah K. Smyth, 24 June 2022


Douglas Lambert, University of Buffalo, United States


Audio/video thematic indexing: meaning mapping for oral history access and usage


Audio/video timecode and thematic indexing is an area of technological and intellectual advancement that has been embraced in the oral history field in a variety of forms. The work developed from the technical ability to synchronize text or other metadata, via timecodes, to the long-form recorded sources they represent. Systems like OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) display both transcripts and thematic indexes, both synchronized for direct and immediate listening to the related interview. Many collections, projects, and institutions favor thematic indexing by timecode for its flexibility and efficiency, versus focusing on word-for-word transcripts. Just as with a back of the book index, a thematic index for audio/video provides users an alternative to consuming a body of work linearly, and its entries are focused on content meaning, not just occurrences in the literal text.

Creating an index involves a balance between how one maps and structures the recorded content initially, optimizes timecode frequency and placement, and manages layers of metadata strategically. Beyond that, there can be seemingly unlimited possibilities for the markup to take shape, including higher order term management like controlled vocabularies organized in thematic maps (e.g., thesauri). I co-developed the Timecode Indexing Module (TIM) to experiment with alternate routes for populating the thematic index structure of OHMS and other a/v content display systems. TIM allows indexers to edit documents of variable text and timecode quality and to leverage improved automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology to develop new hybrid forms of timecoded text, making transcripts look more like indexes, and vice versa.
TIM was created by an international team, and the work was predicated on my long partnership with historian Michael Frisch at the University at Buffalo and The Randforce Associates, where we developed a variety of oral history and other a/v indexing methods with lay people, librarians, museum curators, and teams doing multidisciplinary qualitative research.


Douglas Lambert is cross-disciplinary research scientist specializing in qualitative methods for recorded interviews applied to both the social and natural sciences. A thought leader in direct-to-timecode thematic indexing for long-form audio/video recordings, he advanced new methods for oral history content management with Michael Frisch at the Randforce Associates, LLC, in Buffalo, NY. He later applied the same qualitative analysis approaches to the field of environmental engineering for his 2018 dissertation, studying the problem of groundwater contamination based on stakeholder interviews. In 2020, as a postdoc at the University of Luxembourg, he co-developed the TIM software (Timecode Indexing Module), a unique text-and-timecode editing interface for segmenting and adding metadata to multimedia oral history displays. Lambert is currently engaged in urban water quality issues through the Department of Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo, NY, developing projects that combine interviewing and a/v management to address environmental and social complexity.

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg, Canada


Historicizing modalities: a few thoughts on oral history under surveillance capitalism


This presentation offers a few preliminary thoughts on doing oral history under the conditions of surveillance capitalism. It considers the political functions of transcriptions and archives; the interview as a “technology of the self” (e.g. confession, storytelling); and the commodification of personal data online. Historicizing our methods and tools—and the resulting modalities—is one way in which oral historians can reflect further on inherent assumptions and possibly unintended consequences of doing oral history in an environment that is increasingly shaped by unregulated global corporations that seek profits from commodifying personal data, personal time, and attention.


Alexander Freund is a professor of history and holds the chair in German-Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg, where he also co-founded and directed the Oral History Centre. He has published widely in oral history and migration studies. He has been active in the oral history movement and has served on several international and national editorial boards and executive committees. He is currently working on an oral history of refugees in Winnipeg since 1945 and starting a new project on the history of fathers and sons in Canada since 1900.