6 July 2022

MDOH: The Forward-View with Almila Akdag Salah, Francisca Pessanha, and Myriam Fellous-Sigrist

The third in the Multimodal Digital Oral History seminar series welcomed Almila Akdag Salah and Francisca Pessanha from Utrecht University and Myriam Fellous-Sigrist from Kings College London.

The recording of the seminar can be accessed here: Multimodal Digital Oral History: The Forward-View Seminar - 3

Firstly, Almila and Francisca’s paper, titled What can breathing patterns tell us to analyze Oral History Archives?, was based on their overall research goal to make interviews with high emotional content more computationally accessible and analysable. Their research looks at the non-verbal cues in oral history interviews such as breaks, gaps, gestures, facial expressions, silences etc. that are poorly represented or lost in the transcription, and which allow us to study feelings, mood, and culture at scale: ‘Sometimes silences speak volumes’. They firstly discussed the algorithmic biases in and ethical challenges of using computational tools and approaches, such as automatic speech recognition (ASR) software, as well as the limitations of emotion detection in recorded materials through various non-verbal cues and techniques. Their particular focus is on trauma-related interview data and biological signals, specifically breathing, and this was partly inspired by ‘Records of Breath’, an installation by artist Evrim Kavcar based, which was on her own remembrance of traumatic events. Reflecting firstly on the challenges of working on breathing signals in oral history archives, such as the lack of objective measures or ‘ground truths’, they outlined their exploratory study of breathing features for the analysis of depression. They trained a model to predict breathing signals using the ‘Breath Speech Corpus’, which consists of spontaneous speech, and tested this on an unannotated dataset, the ‘Distress Analysis Corpus’ consisting of semi-clinical interviews about depression symptoms. The results were then tested for correlation with features in the psychopathology literature on depression. They finished by reflecting on the research opportunities that this type of research may open up around subjective memory and storytelling, the interview as a dialogue, and identity protection for interviewees in politicised or life-threatening situations.

Secondly, Myriam presented her paper: Between access and protection: applied ethics for curating digital oral history. This was based on her PhD research on digital oral history and the ethical problems that are amplified by greater discoverability, and focused on the curation of oral history interviews. Her research involved interviews with curators who shared their experiences of the complex issues in curating oral history interviews in the digital context with regards to the conflicting interests of open access and information privacy. Arising from her findings that there are inadequate workflows and resources for dealing with these complex issues, Myriam made a number of recommendations for anticipating and preparing for various privacy issues, improving mutual understanding of shared responsibilities between curators and interviewees, and bridging gaps in the provision of guidance.

Questions that followed focused on the ethical questions that are raised by the computational analysis of trauma-related interview data, the ethics of the re-use of interview data beyond their original purpose, and the extent to which ‘informed consent’ can be meaningfully achieved and maintained in the digital context.

- Hannah K. Smyth, 14 July 2022

6 July 2022