Five College Digital History Toolkit (April 2016) [PDF]

Laura L. Lovett (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Project Leader
Amy Armstrong (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Joyce Berkman (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Jacqueline Castledine (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Daniel Joslyn (Hampshire College)
Amanda Lewis (Smith College)
Kate Sumner (Smith College)
Susan Tracy (Hampshire College)

(1) Introduction [Back to top]

Researching and writing history has always been labor intensive and time consuming. Making that history digital adds to this challenge in ways that make it very difficult to allow students to engage in original research and digital history production in the course of a single semester. The challenge of time is exacerbated when students are drawn from different campuses, because they each have their own sets of resources that may not be easily accessible to students from other campuses or may be completely unknown to faculty at other campuses. For instance, one of the unforeseen needs of running a digital history course (History 397vw at UMass) turned out to be the need for external hard drives to store and transport large digital video files as they were being edited and prepared. This toolkit offers information on resources at each of the Five Colleges, ethics and human subjects requirements at each of the Five Colleges, as well as personal reflections and advice from students and faculty who have engaged in digital history and oral history projects in the Five Colleges.

(2) Guide to resources at the Five Colleges [Back to top]

(a) Amherst College

Guide to Academic Technology Services (ATS)

The following is a resource guide for the circulating audio-visual equipment, computing facilities, and media center at Amherst College with the intention of supporting the 5-College community in humanities work with a digital component.   Each resource is listed alongside available trainings, location, availability, contacts, and systems supported.  Many of the facilities where these resources are found have ATS support staff located on site that can also be of assistance. 

Further information can always be found at the ATS website (link below).

Circulating Audio-Visual Equipment:

According to the Academic Technology Services website, A-V equipment can be rented by members of the Amherst community as well as 5-college students enrolled in a media-based Amherst course. Most equipment must be reserved for academic purposes only and must be requested one business day in advance. Faculty approval is required for rental.

To reserve equipment contact either John Kunhardt or Peter Marvin with notice of at least one business day and include information regarding course number, section, and instructor, equipment needed, date needed, best time for pick-up, phone number, names of other group members. While loan periods are subject to change depending on time of semester and availability, A-V equipment can typically be checked out in 3-4 day intervals. If checked out Monday after 1 p.m. equipment must be returned by 12 p.m. on Thursday, if checked out Thursday after 1 p.m. return by 12 p.m. on Monday. It is the responsibility of the patron to evaluate whether or not there are issues with the equipment prior to rental.

Contact Information for Questions Regarding Circulating AV Equipment:

John Kunhardt


Peter Marvin



Seeley Mudd 110, M-F 9-5


Equipment and Software trainings are available, and desk attendants are trained to field questions and assist as needed. Workshop schedules change each semester – please see the link below for up-to-date information.


Reservations Required; Students, Faculty, Five College

Resources Available:

- MiniDV Digital Camera

- HDV Video Cameras (Canon HV-40, HV-20)

- Tripods, Light Kits for Video Production

- External Firewire and USB Hard-Drives

- DVD Players, VCR Players

- LCD Multimedia Projectors

- Projection Screens

- Marantz Audio (MP3) Recorders

- Zoom H4n Recorders

- iPod with Mics for Interviews and Podcasts

- Assorted Mics

- Portable P/A/ System for iPod or Speech

- Digital Still Cameras

- Digital SLR Cameras

- PRS Clickers

-35 mm Slide Projectors, Overhead Transparency Projectors

- Cables and Connectors

- Blank Media: Cd’s, DVD’s, MiniDV tapes, Audio Tapes

Computing Facilities:

Amherst has many locations for general computer use including Department Labs, Libraries, and the Center for Creative Technology. Information about general computing facilities, including information on available computers, can be found online via the ‘Computing Facilities’ link on Amherst College IT Services website. Many of these facilities have 24-hour access via key card during the school year for Amherst College community members, printing (both black and white and color) is available at all locations.

Below you will find more detailed information about resources at the Center for Creative Technology (CCT), a facility with a variety of resources including a Multimedia Lab, Multimedia Workstation, and Video Production Studio. 

Questions Regarding CCT Resources:

Robert Ryan


Debra McCulloch


Questions Regarding CCT Multimedia Lab:

Joshua Baum

413.542. 5069


First Floor Seeley Mudd, 24 hour Swipe Access

Video Production Space Located in Seeley Mudd 102, Reservations Required


See the following link for further information about up-to-date workshops: 


Students, Faculty, Five College

Note: For Video Production Lab Training Session Must be Attended Before Use

Resources Available:

-2 Scanners; black and white, color

- Large Format Printing

- General Use Computers: 12 Mac, 9 Windows

- Multimedia Lab Computers: 13 iMac Computers and instructor computer with 70” display

- Video Production Space: lighting, green screen, backdrop system, and flat panel television; two professional quality HD cameras

Programs Available on Multimedia Lab Computers:

Final Cut X, iMovie, Adobe CS6, Rhinoceros, iLife, Logic Pro, Garageband as well as all usual programs. Headphones included at each station.

(2) Guide to resources at the Five Colleges

 (b) Hampshire College [Back to top]

Guide to Media Services

The following is a resource guide for the circulating audio-visual equipment, computing facilities, and media center at Hampshire College, with the intention of providing educators and students the resources to pursue digital humanities work. Each resource is listed alongside available trainings, location, availability, contacts, and systems supported.

General Information about Media Services at Hampshire College may be found at:


Borrowing and Usage Requirement

Any patron wishing to borrow equipment must complete the Media Services Certification Matrix on moodle. In order to do this, patrons must enroll themselves and read the two provided documents and the short quiz. Doing this allows one to use the media lab and to take out equipment.

For any questions, contact:

Neil Young
Manager of Media Services


Abigail Baines


Audio-Visual Equipment:

A-V equipment can be rented by currently enrolled Five College students, faculty, and staff, as long as they have a valid Five College I.D.

A-V equipment can be rented at the Media Services Desk on the first floor of the Harold F. Johnson Library. No prior reservation is required for standard rentals of 2.5 days or less. Equipment rented this way must be returned before noon on the day it is due.

For longer rental-periods, you must fill out an Equipment Request Form in person. Request forms are approved daily by staff, in order of receipt, by patron’s proficiency, divisional status, and loan record. For the best chance of a quick and fluid process, contact media services early and explain the nature of the course and what you will need for it. Equipment rented this way must be turned in at least 30 minutes before the end of office hours on the given requested date of check out. 

Requests for extended loan periods over designated school holidays and vacations must be made in advance


Normally rented equipment is liable for one renewal for an additional 2.5 day period.

Contact Information for Questions Regarding Circulating AV Equipment:

Media & Production Services


Neil Young
Manager of Media Services


8:30 AM – 4:30 PM


Media & Production Services

Harold F. Johnson Library, First Floor

Questions and Help Utilizing Equipment:

Desk and library attendants are trained to field questions and assist as needed. For more specific questions and help, ask the staff at Media Services in the library or contact Media and Production Services via the email address listed above, or Neil Young, Manager of Media services, whose contact information is also listed above.

Relevant Video Equipment

-       Canon Vixia HF S200 (no internal flashdrive, two memory -card slots)

-       Canon Vixia HF S100 (~16 gb internal flashdrive stores up to 6 hours of video; two memory -card slots).

-       Canon Vixia HF M41 (32 gb internal flashdrive stores up to 12 hours of video; two memory -card slots).

-       Panasonic HDC-HS300 (120 gb internal flashdrive stores up to 50 hours of video; two memory-card slots)

Relevant Audio Equipment

-       Lavalier Microphones (Voice Microphone that can attach to clothes)

Relevant Presentation Equipment

-       Data projector

-       Projection screen

-       Mini PA

-       Powered speaker

Storage Equipment

-       Hampshire College does not rent out memory cards or external hard drives

General Computing Facility:

Hampshire has one main location for computers on which you can edit movies and interviews, as a non film-student: the Library Basement. Information about general computing facilities, including information on what programs the various computers have installed, see the Labs & Printing Link on Hampshire College’s website (link below).


Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 


Media & Production Services

Harold F. Johnson Library, Basement


Students, Faculty, Five College

Note: For Video Production Lab Training Session Must be Attended Before Use

Resources Available:

-2 Scanners; black and white, color

- Large Format Printing

- General Use Computers: 12 Mac, 9 Windows

- Multimedia Lab Computers: 13 iMac Computers and instructor computer with 70” display

- Video Production Space: lighting, green screen, backdrop system, and flat panel television; two professional quality HD cameras

Programs Available on Multimedia Lab Computers:

Final Cut X, iMovie, Adobe CS6, Rhinoceros, iLife, Logic Pro, Garageband as well as all usual programs. Headphones included at each station.

(2) Guide to resources at the Five Colleges

(c)   Mt. Holyoke College [Back to top]

There are several distinct media resource centers on campus. Most are located within the LITS (Library, Information, and Technology Services) complex:

·         MEWS (Mediated Education Work Space) contains a video editing classroom with 10 Mac workstations containing the full suite of video editing software (Adobe Premier, iMovie, Final Cut, etc.) and two plasma screens.  This space also supports 3-D animation and audio mixing.  The workspaces are staffed by student workers who have taken the video production class, available either by drop-in or by scheduled appointment.  This area is open any time the library is open, and is located on the first floor of Dwight Hall.  Assistance with video or audio editing can also be requested via email:

The current web address (as of 5/2015) is

·         Adjacent to MEWS is the Information Commons Technology Help Desk.  

·         Media Resources is located in the library within MEWS.  They circulate equipment and conduct some video production services for the college.

To borrow equipment, the borrower must complete a loan agreement accepting responsibility for the safety of the equipment against theft, damage, or misuse. All loans are for a 3 day period.  Reservations should be placed one week in advance in order to guarantee reservation of popular equipment.  Reservations must be placed using this online form:

Circulating equipment can be loaned to MHC students of 5 College students enrolled in a Mt. Holyoke course. Equipment is currently not available to general members of the 5 College community, including 5 College staff.

Available Equipment:

Audio Recorders

19 Edirol Ed R09HR

6 Marantz PMD 660

Digital Cameras and DSLRs

10 Canon A495

4 Canon SX510

2 Canon Rebel T1

4 Canon Rebel T3i

3 Panasonic GH2

External Hard Drives

10 Western Digital 250GB

5 Western Digital 500GB USB 3

19 Seagate 250GB

Laptops (professors and staff only)

6 Dell Lattitude 6320

6 Macbook Pro

5 Macbook

LCD Projectors

7 NEC Projectors - Various Models

4 Infocus IN37

Light Kits

3 Impact Softbox Kits

2 Bescor LED kits

4 Lowell 3 Point kits


11 Shure SM58

9 Shure SM11 Lav mics

13 Sennheiser MKE300 Shotgun

10 Audio Technica Lav

3 Sennheiser EW100 Wireless Lav

Sound Systems

10 Samson XP40iW

5 Anchor AN100

3 Anchor Liberty Portable systems


19 Slik SL Pro Tripods

12 Manfrotto 128LP Fluid Heads with Manfrotto Legs


Michael Urgo

Manager, Media Resources

Campus Technology & Media Support


Zachary Matys

Classroom Technology Support Technician


·         Newman’s Own Recording Studio is a small room in the library primarily used for President Pasquerella to record her radio program “Academic Minute” broadcast by WAMC.  It is located in Miles-Smith 351 and is available by reservation to record audio and to conduct live radio broadcasts.  To reserve this space, email and pick up the keys at Media Resources. First time users should schedule a training session with Media Resources staff, available via the email address above or at 413-538-3163.


·         The Media Lab can be found in room 211 of the art building.  This space is geared toward those in digital art or photography projects.  There are 10 Macs, 3 PCs, a vinyl cutter, large format printers and some video capabilities.  One Mac is programmed with the same suite of software as in MEWS (Adobe Premier, iMovie, Final Cut, etc.)

For information on media labs, Nick Baker is an excellent resource.  He can be reached at 413-538-3014 or .  He is available to assist students with film editing on iMovie, graphic design with the Adobe Suite, 3-D Modelling with Google Sketchup, and robotics projects with Arduino.  He is also available to faculty interested in using technology to support their teaching.  See

(2) Guide to resources at the Five Colleges

(d)   Smith College [Back to top]

Guide to Technology and Services


Center for Media Production, C Level of Neilson Library

Academic Year Hours:

            M - Th 8am - 12am

Friday 8am - 5pm

Sat 10am - 5pm

Sun 12pm - 12am

J-Term hours:

M - F 8:30am - 5pm 

Summer hours:

            M - F 8am -5pm

Seelye Lab, Basement of Seelye Hall

Academic Year Hours:

M-Th 8am - 10pm

            Fr 8am - 4:30pm

            Sat 10am - 4pm

            Sun 10am - 10pm

ETS Staff:

Jo Cannon, Assistant Director

phone: 413.585.3472


Sandy Bycenski, Technology Support Consultant

phone: 413.585.2495


Kate Lee, Senior Media Producer

phone: 413.585.2889


Most resources are accessible according to library hours.  The CMP is accessible through the Alumnae Gymnasium building between 8am - 5pm and can then be entered through Neilson Library.  Below is listed Smith’s library hours:

Note: be sure to check Smith College Libraries’ regularly, as hours sometimes change according to the academic calendar.  The hours can be found online here:

Finding and Renting Equipment

The majority of the equipment that you will be using for a digital history narrative can be found, and rented, from the CMP.  All that you need is your Student ID card.  Equipment can be rented during any time that the CMP is open, excluding the weeks of final examinations.  There is no limit to the number of individual equipment that you may check out, although there are strict due dates.  The CMP issues a $5/hour fine for each piece of equipment that is not returned by the due date at 1PM. 


Hours to Access



CMP during open hours

Monday - Wednesday at 1PM

Wednesday - Friday at 1PM

Friday - Monday at 1PM


CMP during open hours

Monday - Wednesday at 1PM

Wednesday - Friday at 1PM

Friday - Monday at 1PM

Hard Drives

CMP during open hours

available for semester with instructor’s permission


available during Neilson and Hillyer library hours


Editing Software

Though there are computers available for use in all of the Smith College libraries, those in the CMP and Seelye Basement are best-equipped for editing video footage.  The CMP has 15 Mac stations all equipped with the latest versions of iMovie and FinalCut Pro. 

The CMP is consistently staffed by students who have been trained in all equipment as well as editing software.  They are available at the front desk of the CMP as well as at the Student Media Specialist desk in the lab of the CMP to answer any questions you may have. 

Additionally, the CMP holds regularly scheduled workshops that are led by their student staff.  These workshops cover FinalCutPro, PhotoShop, as well as how to use specific equipment that they have available. 

(2) Guide to resources at the Five Colleges

(e)  University of Massachusetts [Back to top]

Guide to Technology Services

Digital Media Lab -  located on the 3rd floor of the W.E.B Dubois Library

11:00am- 9:00pm Sunday through Friday

Coordinator is Jean Antill, she is there 12-10pm Sunday- Thursday and 12-6pm Friday and Saturday. Her email is, and phone number 413-545-6959

Jean is available to train students and instructors on how to use the equipment.

*We had a session with Jean during History 397-VW, which I found to be really helpful*

UMass & Five college students are able to rent out the equipment for 3 days

Jean did warn me that they get really busy right before breaks, so avoid procrastination.

Equipment can be returned after hours to the Circulation desk (located on the first floor of the library).

During our Oral History project, I used the digital media lab a lot, and found it to be a great quiet space where Staff is really helpful and knowledgeable specifically about editing software. While working in the Digital Media Lab I used iMovie, but after talking to friends and UVC (see below for more info. on UVC) I wish I had used Final Cut Pro. Final Cut Pro has more editing options and is used more professionally.

(Note The Digital Media Lab is currently under construction, and in the process of ordering more equipment (fall 2014) Renovation is expected to be completed by Spring 2015)

Cameras available & amount:

Canon Vixia (Approx. 10 post construction will have 15)

Canon Powershot Digital (Approx. 10) *This camera is not ideal for video, but has the ability to shoot video* I suspect it is fine for simple interviews

DSLR Cannon 60D, 250mm lens, 50 mm lens (1)

Audio available and amount:

3-4 of each of the following, and all would work for interviews

_      Olympus LS-10

_      Tascam DR 07

_      Roland 05

Camera Lav mics (Approx 5, getting 10 more)

Editing equipment:

Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud, Imovie (by Spring 2015 there will be 20 computers with this technology)

Memory Card and Reader 16gb (Approx 20)

Circulation Desk: Located in the bottom floor of the library (LL)

UMass students can take this equipment out for 3 days

5 College Students cannot take out this equipment, they can return things from the Digital Media Lab here.

Cameras & kits (include things like batteries, cables, SD cards): approx 20 available

Tripods: approx 8-10 available


recording devices: approx 6 available

Mac Lab: Located on the 7th floor of the Library (785)

Approx 10 Mac computers all with Final Cut Pro

Learning Commons: (Located on the lower level of the Library)

Approx 30 macs have Final Cut Pro and Imovie

(I use the learning commons all the time, and it’s major downfall is that it can be very noisy which can make it hard to focus in on editing sound)

Integrative Learning Center:

Through the Communication and Journalism departments students will have access to a variety of resources for digital media. While preference is given to those two majors everyone can access these resources, because it has not opened yet I cannot comment on how easy it is to access these resources.

Equipment/ Resources Include

_      Full AV studio

_      Edit rooms- fit two students and equipment

_      Cameras and Audio Recording Devices

5 College access: If 5 college students are enrolled in a Communications or Journalism courses if the instructor requests it. Otherwise they are unsure of the policy for 5 college students right now.

For further information contact

Bruce O’Leary

IT Manager Depts of Communication and Journalism

Integrative Learning Center s451

UVC: (Located in room 216 in the basement of the Student Union)

UVC is an undergraduate organization that provides training and access to cameras, editing material, and recording devices. They have a public access station where their material is aired.

_      It costs undergraduate students $10 to join UVC per year.  Members then have access to advanced and beginner editing and camera workshops. They are also able to rent out HD cameras, microphones, tripods, audio mixers, lighting kits, digital format recorders, wireless microphones, IMacs with final cut pro for editing. See below for restrictions on memberships.

_     UVC only uses Final Cut Pro because it has more professional features than other editing software (i.e. IMovie).

_     UNC only allows undergraduate students to become members, but is open to collaboration with graduate students and faculty.

_     Only Umass Students can become members, not 5 college students.

_      UVC tries to keep up to date equipment so that when students are in the workforce they have experience with the most up to date equipment.

_      As a member of UVC students are allowed to propose programs for UVC to air. Programs that students record can be aired on UVC’s public access channel

_     Throughout the year UVC has 3 inhouse programs, they are a news show, a sports show, and talk show.

_     UVC has showed programming created by the Communications Department, and is open to airing programming created by other departments and classes.

_      UVC also has a production team which can film student events, but they prefer to teach students how to film events themselves.

_      UVC is open to potentially working with or sponsoring UMass students independent studies. It has never been done before.

For further information contact

Darol Bishop at

also, Julia Keefe (publicity) at

*I personally just visited their office, and someone was willing to sit down with me and talk about the organization and options for working collaboratively with classes. They are super helpful!

(3) Guide to Ethical and Human Subjects Standards from each of the Five Colleges [Back to top]

(a)  Amherst College

Amherst College Guide to Institutional Review Board (IRB)

The following is intended as an accessible overview to IRB procedures at Amherst College. Any research proposal that involves human subjects must be approved by the Human Subjects Committee (an up-to-date list of the members of this committee can be found online at the link below) before beginning research.  While a more detailed description of the IRB process can be found online (link below), the intention of this guide is to provide a concise and accessible overview of the process including standards, permissions procedures, and forms as pertains to research proposals in the humanities.  If research is conducted at another institution (within the 5-Colleges or more broadly), that institution must approve the proposal and provide Amherst College with evidence of review. 

Human Subjects Committee:

Detailed IRB Policies and Guidelines:


IRB aims to minimize risk for human subjects participating in research stemming from a history of academic misconduct (particularly targeting marginalized groups), Amherst College review process screens for the following three ethical principles: Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice.  All proposed research must adhere to these base standards.  Once the proposal is finalized with these standards in mind, it must be sent to the committee for review. The proposal will be assigned one of three categories based on potential for harm and vulnerability of subjects: Exempt (no risk), Expedited Review (minimal risk), or Full Board Review (more than minimal risk and protected subjects).  From this point, the proposal will be reviewed with four possible outcomes: Approved, Approved if Designated Changes are Made, Revise and Resubmit, or Denied. 

For further information about proposal categories and possible outcomes, please see the website listed above.


Completed proposals should be signed and submitted to the Dean of the Faculty’s office attention of Deb Bishop, as well as e-mailed as a PDF to


The necessary form for Amherst College IRB is a Request for Approval for Human Subjects Research. A sample copy of this form, as well as a sample consent form for proposed subjects, is included at the end of this document.

SAMPLE COPY:  Request of Approval for Human Subjects Research

For Office Use Only


Protocol #¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬___________________

Amherst College
Dean of the Faculty


(Please type)

Title of Research Project:

Investigator(s):                                                                     email:



Printed Name and Signature of Faculty Supervisor:

Answer questions in spaces below and/or provide numbered answers on separate sheets.   Please include copies of all measures used in your experiment, as well as the informed consent document, debriefing forms, and parent permission letter (if applicable).

1. Briefly describe the purpose of this study:

2. Participants: Describe the number and type of participants, the source from which they will be recruited, the method of recruitment. [Those under age 18, except college students, require written parent permission.)

\Amount of time needed per participant:

3. Describe the procedure (what participants will be asked to do) in detail:

4. If the research requires any deception, provide explicit justification:

5. Risk to participants: Given the fact that in any study it is possible for participants to experience some degree of discomfort, anxiety, concern about failure, etc., what will you do to minimize the possibility that this will occur, and how will you deal with it if it does occur?

6. How will you obtain informed consent?

[Describe procedure, and attach copies of forms or letters]

7. How will you debrief participants?

[Describe procedure, and attach copies of debriefing letter; if the research involves any deception, specifically explain appropriate debriefing procedures]

8. Participants' rights:

A: How will privacy be guaranteed?  [Please include a description of how the data will be handled and stored to insure privacy]

B: How will participants' right to terminate or refuse participation be guaranteed?

9.  Ethics Training

[Please list all study personnel and the dates that each researcher completed the required ethics training program]

Name                                                 Position                                Date of Completion

_____________________________________________      ______________________    ____________

_____________________________________________      ______________________    ____________

Protection of Human Subjects


Title of Study: Investigator(s):

The following informed consent is required for any person involved in research study. This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects at Amherst College.

I understand that:

1. My participation is voluntary.

2. I may withdraw my consent and discontinue participation in this study (or any portion thereof) at any time without bearing any negative consequences.  I will receive full credit for participation regardless of how much of the experiment I complete.

3. You have given me an explanation of the procedures to be followed in the project, and

answered any inquiries that I may have.

4. All of the information from this study will be strictly confidential. No names will be associated with the data in any way. Providing my address to receive a report of this research upon its completion will also not compromise the anonymity of the data. I understand that the data will be stored in locked offices and will be accessible only to members of the researching group.

5. The results of this study will be made part of a final research report and may be used in papers submitted for publication or presented at professional conferences, but under no circumstances will my name or other identifying characteristics be included.

I have reviewed the procedures to be followed and hereby give my consent to participate in this research. I also agree not to discuss the purposes and procedures of this study with anyone in order that the integrity of this research is not compromised.


            __________________________________________________Print Name


Please send me a report on the group results of this research project upon its completion:

    YES      NO

Address to which the report should be sent: ____________________________________


(3) Guide to Ethical and Human Subjects Standards from each of the Five Colleges

 (b) Hampshire College [Back to top]

The following is intended as an accessible overview to IRB procedures at Hampshire College. The Institutional Review Board must approve any project, wherein you are conducting research (as defined in the linked document below), involving human subjects (definition provided below) directly or through the use of personal identifiers about them (definition and examples of personal identifiers in the links below). An up-to-date list of the members can be found online at the link below. While a more detailed description of the IRB process can be found online (link below), the intention of this guide is to provide a concise and accessible overview of the process, including standards, permissions, procedures, and forms pertaining to research proposals in the humanities.

Definition of Research:

Definition of Human Subject:

A "human subject" is any specific living person who is the subject of research, or information about such a person. (

Personal Identifiers:

IRB General Information and Affiliated Faculty and Staff:

Types of IRB Review

There are three levels of IRB review: full board, expedited, and exempt from continuing review. Which level you apply for, depends on the nature of the protocol, the level of potential risk to human subjects, and the subject population. Thus, an oral history could conceivably require any tier, depending on the type of project, whom you are interviewing, etc. The biggest difference between the three is the rigor and time spent on reviewing your application, as well as how much of the board needs to review it. See the flowchart below for helpful hints on determining which level to apply for. All levels require the same application form. Proposals are reviewed with four possible outcomes: Approved, Approved if Designated Changes are Made, Revise and Resubmit, or Denied. 

Flowchart: What needs which IRB approval?

Types of IRB:

Overview of the Application Process:

Informed Consent

In research involving human, participants are required to give informed consent prior to their participation in the research. The process of obtaining this consent can be carried out in a number of ways, and where warranted, should be revisited during the research.

Informed consent must be obtained either through obtaining a signed waiver of consent, or, in very rare circumstances, through an oral consent agreement. Both parties must sign and review consent forms prior to participation in the research. Obtaining informed consent is contingent on research participants having sufficient information about the research to ensure that they understand the procedures or activities, in which they will be involved, as well as the risks and potential benefits of the research. It must also inform them of their rights with respect to participation: that research participation is voluntary and that they have the right to withdraw at any time.

The more risk that is posed to research participants by a given study, the greater the care and comprehensiveness of the consent process that will be required by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Consent versus assent:

Only individuals who have reached the legal age of consent (18 in most places in the United States) may give consent, whereas people who have not reached the consent age may only give assent. In order to work with people incapable of giving full informed consent, you must attain their assent as well as the informed consent of a parent or legal guardian.

For a guide to creating an informed consent as well as a guide to the elements of informed consent, and sample waivers, see the links below.

Informed consent guide overview:

Guide to Creating an Informed Consent

Elements of Informed Consent:

Sample Informed Consent Form:

Sample Oral Consent Form:

Sample Informed Assent Form:

Sample Informed Parental Consent Form:

Site Authorization Letter

Before conducting research in a location that is not on campus, you must obtain written approval by a representative of the organization, business, or field site where you intend to do the research granting permission to conduct your research.

Site Authorization information:

Sample Site Authorization Letter:

IRB Application Packet

The IRB application must include a(n):

·      IRB Application Form (below),

·      Copy of each and any Consent/Assent forms you will use for your research, and/or a written copy of the language of your oral consent,

·      Site Authorization Letter (if you are doing research off-campus),

·      IRB approval letter from any other institutions you are working with,

·      Copy of any additional materials being used for your research project (e.g. sample interview questions, survey items, etc.)

Deadlines and Application

Expedited and exempt IRB applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, generally taking 2-3 weeks for a review. Full IRB applications must be filled according to the deadlines listed on the link below.

All IRB proposals are due one week prior to IRB meetings. Proposals later than that will not be processed until the next IRB meeting.

Summer proposals are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Contact the IRB secretary (information below), to submit a proposal.

All applications must be submitted in a single-sided format to the IRB secretary (information below).

IRB Secretary:

Maureen Mooney,

Dean of Faculty Office, Cole Science Center, 115

Application Mailing Address:

Maureen Mooney, IRB Secretary
c/o Dean of Faculty Office
Hampshire College
893 West St.
Amherst, MA 01002


The necessary form for Hampshire College IRB is the Research Proposal Form with Cover Sheet. A sample copy of this form is included at the end of this document.

Research Proposal Cover Sheet: Macintosh HD:Users:daniel:Downloads:IRB_proposal_form.pdf

Research Proposal Form:Macintosh HD:Users:daniel:Downloads:https___www.hampshire.edu_sites_default_files_shared_files_IRB_proposal_form.pdf

(3) Guide to Ethical and Human Subjects Standards from each of the Five Colleges

 (c) Mt. Holyoke College [Back to top]

Contact Information

            *Currently, Professor Amber N. Douglas chairs the Institutional Review Board at Mt. Holyoke College.  The IRB may be reached at

General information


            * Typically, oral histories are not subject to IRB review at Mt. Holyoke College.  However, the project must still be submitted to the Board to determine whether it is exempt.  In order to do this, the person proposing the project must complete a Pre-Proposal survey through Mentor IRB.  The survey, which requires a Mt. Holyoke username and password, may be accessed through the following link:

Pre-Proposal Survey
Q1: Is the study activity a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge? (Y/N)

Q2: Does the research involve obtaining information about living individuals? (Y/N)

Q3:Does the research involve intervention or interaction with the study subjects?  (Y/N)

4.  Will the only involvement of human subjects be in one or more of the following categories?

-Research conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings, involving normal educational practices.
- Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior.
- Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior that is not exempt under option 2, if: (i) the human subjects are elected or appointed public officials or candidates for public office; or (ii) federal statute(s) require(s) without exception that the confidentiality of the personally identifiable information will be maintained throughout the research and thereafter.

-Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, or pathological or diagnostic specimens.
-Research involving taste and food quality evaluation or consumer acceptance studies.

-None of the above.
5. Could the identification or subjects put them at risk of criminal or civil liability, or be socially or economically damaging? (Y/N)
6. Are measures in place to make the risks no more than minimal? (Y/N)

Based on your answers to these questions, the survey will help you determine whether or not your project requires further IRB approval.  If the project does require IRB approval, it is still possible for submit an expedited review, if certain criteria are met.  First, the participants must be over the age of 18.  Secondly, if the research methods fit into any of the five possibilities outlined below, the project is most likely eligible for an expedited IRB approval. 

Does the research present no more than minimal risk to human subjects and does the research involve only procedures including in the following categories?

            - Prospective collection of biological specimens for research purposes by noninvasive means.

Examples: (a) hair and nail clippings in a nondisfiguring manner; (b) deciduous teeth at time of exfoliation or if routine patient care indicates a need for extraction; (c) permanent teeth if routine patient care indicates a need for extraction; (d) excreta and external secretions (including sweat); (e) uncannulated saliva collected either in an unstimulated fashion or stimulated by chewing gumbase or wax or by applying a dilute citric solution to the tongue; (f) placenta removed at delivery; (g) amniotic fluid obtained at the time of rupture of the membrane prior to or during labor; (h) supra- and subgingival dental plaque and calculus, provided the collection procedure is not more invasive than routine prophylactic scaling of the teeth and the process is accomplished in accordance with accepted prophylactic techniques; (i) mucosal and skin cells collected by buccal scraping or swab, skin swab, or mouth washings; (j) sputum collected after saline mist nebulization.

            - Collection of data through noninvasive procedures (not involving general anesthesia or sedation) routinely employed in clinical practice, excluding procedures involving x-rays or microwaves. Where medical devices are employed, they must be cleared/approved for marketing. (Studies intended to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the medical device are not generally eligible for expedited review, including studies of cleared medical devices for new indications.)  

Examples: (a) physical sensors that are applied either to the surface of the body or at a distance and do not involve input of significant amounts of energy into the subject or an invasion of the subject=s privacy; (b) weighing or testing sensory acuity; (c) magnetic resonance imaging; (d) electrocardiography, electroencephalography, thermography, detection of naturally occurring radioactivity, electroretinography, ultrasound, diagnostic infrared imaging, doppler blood flow, and echocardiography; (e) moderate exercise, muscular strength testing, body composition assessment, and flexibility testing where appropriate given the age, weight, and health of the individual.

            - Research involving materials (data, documents, records, or specimens) that have been collected, or will be collected solely for nonresearch purposes (such as medical treatment or diagnosis).

            - Collection of data from voice, video, digital, or image recordings made for research purposes.

            - Research on individual or group characteristics or behavior (including, but not limited to, research on perception, cognition, motivation, identity, language, communication, cultural beliefs or practices, and social behavior) or research employing survey, interview, oral history, focus group, program evaluation, human factors evaluation, or quality assurance methodologies.

(3) Guide to Ethical and Human Subjects Standards from each of the Five Colleges

(d)  Smith College [Back to top]

Who Needs to Apply for IRB Approval?

All research connected to the Smith College community must be approved. Smith students must receive written permission and supervision from a Faculty Adviser to conduct research.

Definition of “research”: a systematic investigation—including research development, testing and evaluation—involving a living individual about whom you obtain:

1.     data through intervention or interaction, INCLUDING surveys and interviews, and/or

2.     identifiable private information in a form associable with that individual.

Researches studies that have been approved at another institution must still be approved by the Smith College IRB. Approval by the primary IRB does not guarantee Smith IRB approval. Oral Histories must also apply for Smith IRB approval.

Suggestions for Expedient IRB Review

1.     Identify whether your research will be repeated. If this is the case, please submit a generic IRB Research Proposal Form, along with specific Change of Protocol forms for each research project.

2.     Submit related research in groups. If you have several students conducting various parts of one larger research project, submit all these parts as one group.

3.     Please note that when minors, prisoners, or any vulnerable population participates in your research, your proposal will be reviewed by the full IRB. Full board meetings occur once per month. The schedule can be found on this web site.

4.     All researchers, including faculty and students, are now required to take an on-line training course. This is described in part 2 of 'The Application Process' on this web site. Therefore, we suggest that you make this training an assignment at the beginning of the semester.

The Application Process

1.     Understanding the Purpose of the Review Process

The Belmont Report explains the unifying ethical principles that form the basis for the National Commission’s topic-specific reports and the regulations that incorporate its recommendations. The three fundamental ethical principles for all human subject are:

a.              Respect for persons: protecting the autonomy of all people and treating them with courtesy and respect

b.             Beneficence: maximizing good outcomes for humanity and research subject, while minimizing or avoiding risks or harm

c.              Justice: ensuring reasonable, non-exploitative, and well-considered procedures are administered fairly

2.              Required Online Training

a.              Key personal engaged in research with human subjects must complete CITI training

i.                  Key personal are defined as those who:

1.     Enroll Individuals

2.     Obtain informed consent beyond collecting forms and giving contact information

3.     Intervene or interact with participants through invasive (like, drawing blood) or non-invasive (like, filling out a survey) procedures

4.     Collect data from participants or follow up directly with participants

5.     Collect identifiable private information from participants or have access to information that links participants’ names or identifiers to their data

6.     Act as authoritative representatives for investigators

b.             Proof of completion

 .                  For Smith students, faculty, staff: The form is automatically sent to the IRB office, but keep a copy for your own records

i.                  For investigators from other institutions: to meet the training requirement a printed copy must be submitted to Smith IRB. The form can be accessed after the test is taken by logging into the Completion Reports section of the CITI program website.


3.              Preparing and Submitting a Proposal

IRB Research Proposal Forms:

a.              Documentation of Review and Approval of Research Project Involving Human Participants


i.                  Contact information for the research, faculty adviser, and general information about the project

ii.                  Signature of the research and (for student research) of the faculty adviser who has approved the proposal

iii.                  This should be printed separately, signed, and submitted as a hard copy

b.             Description of Research Project Involving Human Participants

i.                  Specific information regarding research methods - answer clearly and concisely

ii.                  Documentation of Informed Consent

1.     Templates are available to provide the basic elements of an informed consent document. AVAILABLE HERE:

b.             Suggestions for Research Proposals

 .                  Proposal must indicate adequate provisions will be made for the protection of rights and welfare of the prospective participants

d.    Submission

i.                  Send proposal to

ii.                  Print out the Documentation of Review and Approval of Research Project and mail to Bass Hall, room 302 or fax to (413)585-3786

4.              Review Procedures

The Committee Chair conducts a preliminary review to decide the review status of the proposal. This happens with a few days of submission.

a.              Exempt Review

i.                  2 business days

ii.                  Federal regulations limit what research qualifies for exemption: “Data obtained in person, or that are coded and linked to name, record number, social security number or other identifiers do not qualify for exempt review status.”

b.             Expedited Review

 .                  7 business days

i.                  Research that falls into certain categories and meets conditions of minimal risk

c.              Full Review

 .                  15-20 business days

NOTE: The board will often request additional information or suggest changes to the proposal before it is even reviewed. This improves the proposal and speeds up the review process. The timeliness of proposal’s approval may depend on promptness of responses to board’s requests.

d.    Approval

i.                  The application is complete, the risks are minimized, the procedures are appropriate.

e.              Approval with Contingencies/Stipulations

 .                  There are issues/changes that must be addressed before the project can begin. once a satisfactory response to these contingencies is received and approved by the IRB Chair, the review is complete.

f.               Deferral

 .                  applications found to have significant concerns will be deferred. The research will receive a list of concerns that must be addressed for approval to proceed. Then the response will be reconsidered.

g.             Non-Approval

 .                  An extremely rare occurrence, but applications found to have risks which outweigh potential individual and social benefits will not be allowed to be conducting. If the IRB decides to disapprove it shall include in its written notification the reasons for the decision and gives the investigator an opportunity to appeal in person or in writing. The IRB will vote again after the appeal. This second vote is final.  

5.              The Application Process for Research Approval by Another Institution

a.              The review performed by the primary IRB at another institution must meet the human subject protection requirements of the Smith IRB

b.             Submit to or mail to Bass Hall, room 302:

i.                  the IRB Research Proposal Form for Research That Has Been Approved by Another Institution

ii.                  signed proof of approval by the primary IRB

iii.                  a copy of the approved proposal and consent form(s)

iv.                  Smith consent form(s)

v.                  any and all supporting documents (recruitment tools, survey instruments etc.)

vi.                  You may be asked to provide other documentation

6.              About IRB Oversight

a.              Annual Review

i.                  proposals under Full and Expedited Review must be renewed annually

ii.                  the primary investigator will be contacted to inquire about the status of the project

iii.                  primary investigators must contact the IRB before leaving affiliation with the project with alternate contact information

iv.                  continuing research form:

b.             Deviations from Approved Protocol

 .                  protocal deviation form

i.                  an incident of non-compliance with the approved proposal but does not have significant effect on the research or participants rights, safety, and welfare

ii.                  you are responsible for reporting any action by a researcher that deviates from the approved protocol

c.              Adverse/Unanticipated Events and Findings

 .                  findings whose nature, severity, and/or frequency are not described in the research proposal. examples:

1.     harmful to participants or the researcher

2.     unexpected complications

3.     misstep in study procedures or consent

i.                  these facts must be immediately reported using the Adverse/Unanticipated Events Report

d.             Changes of Protocol

 .                  Any change made to research procedures must be submitted to the IRB with the Research Project Change of Protocol form

i.                  Once changes have been approved, the IRB will forward a copy of the signed form

e.              Project Completion

 .                  When data and analysis have been completed, a Research Proposal Continuation/Completion Form must be submitted

f.               Documentation and Record Keeping

 .                  Investigators must store signed consent documents in a way insuring confidentiality of participants information

i.                  Smith College will prepare and maintain IRb activities documentation for at least 3 years after completion of research

1.     research proposals reviewed

2.     evaluations

3.     approved sample consent documents

4.     progress reports

5.     reports of injuries to subjects

6.     minutes of IRB meetings

7.     IRB corresponce

8.     list of IRB members

9.     copies of policies and guidelines

Complainant Protection Policy

The IRB reviews all allegations of misconduct and takes action to protect human subjects. Subjects with a complaint should call the IRB at (413)-585-3914 or file a Participant Complaint Form.

Investigator Noncompliance

The IRB is required to review allegations of noncompliance with IRB-approved proposals as well as Federal regulations and College policies regarding human subject research. Corrective action will be appropriate to the incident.

The IRB will report to the federal Office for Human Research Protections and any other sponsoring Federal department or agency head in cases of:

            Any series serious or continuing noncompliance with regulations of IRB requirements

            Any injuries to human subjects or other unanticipated problems involving risks to subjects or others, and any suspension or termination of IRB approval for research to appropriate institutional officials.

Investigator Conflict of Interest

The Smith College Board of Trustees will in the future approve policy of Conflict of Interest in Research. Under this policy, the IRB will determine whether the conflict is permissible in the context of the research, and whether the conflict warrants disclosure to subjects as part of the informed consent process.

IRB Membership 2014-2015

            Leslie Jaffe, Health Services

            Albert Mosley, Philosophy

            Amy Olsen, Clinical and Support Options, Inc

            Phil Peake, Psychology (Committee Chair)

            Nnamdi Pole, Psychology

            Al Rudnistky, Education & Child Study

            Beth Ward, Hampshire College

            Randy Frost, Psychology (Alternate)

Contact information: or (413)-585-3562

Contact for details on the IRB monthly meetings.

Report problems to:

Phil Peake

Bass Hall 301


(3) Guide to Ethical and Human Subjects Standards from each of the Five Colleges

 (e) University of Massachusetts [Back to top]

Guide to Institutional Review Board (IRB)

_      Oral Histories, where interviews are collected from specific people, that are used for informational purposes only and not used to come to any conclusions do not need to be reviewed by the IRB.

_      Oral Histories where interviews are collected for the purpose of coming to conclusions, informing policies, or to generalize conclusions do need to be reviewed by the IRB.

_      For more information about the Institutional Review Board’s policy regarding Oral Histories please visit:

(4)  Doing Digital History: Student Narratives [Back to top]

Amy Armstrong (University of Massachusetts, Class of 2015)

            I was first interested in Laura Lovett’s public history 397-VW course because of its focus on both women’s history and community engagement. As both a History and AfroAmerican studies major I searched out  more community based classes, where there is work outside of the classroom and connections to issues facing the local community. I feel that a hands on experience adds an incredible amount of value to whatever theory or history I am learning about.  I was interested in the work that Safe Passage does in the area, and generally interested in the history of domestic violence shelters. When first approaching the class I really had little to no idea of what Oral History was, let alone feminist Oral History.

            The goal of the class was to understand and create an oral history of Safe Passage, an intimate partner violence shelter in Northampton. While working towards this goal we learned about the history of intimate partner violence shelters and activism in the United States, and specifically in the Pioneer Valley. We were given access to Safe Passage’s documents at the Sophia Smith collection, and taught how to look through them and figure out what information we needed to complete the history. We gained knowledge in accessing and utilizing technology to record interviews, and to edit them. We were trained in this technology and taught about the obstacles of capturing a great interview on film.

We then learned about the interview process, and all of the factors that shape a feminist oral history interview. We came into these interviews as knowledgeable as we could through our background knowledge of the archival documents, a timeline to base some of our questions on, and our training in the proper technology. In learning about the interview process we were able to analyze how things like etiquette, location, sound quality, relationship between interviewee and interviewer were all incredibly important to the quality of the interview.

            One of my favorite aspects of the class was the size, and the involvement of Five College students. Being in a class with students from the five colleges really made me feel like I was a part of the Five College community. I had never taken a class in the other colleges, and had not really experienced that feeling. In doing a class about the Pioneer Valley it really helped to broaden our conversation on the history of this area.

            For me this course was one of the first I had taken to focus primarily on women, and to really discuss the role and impact of the women’s movement in present day society. This class helped me pick up on a lot of my interests that are currently transforming into future career goals. It was one of the first classes I took that looked at things like policy, funding and the framework of social movements which is really interesting for me, and can translate into future jobs.

Today, as an alumni I am volunteering with Safe Passage. Going through their volunteer training was incredibly informative and especially interesting because of the oral history project. I already knew a lot about domestic violence, and common beliefs surrounding it. I knew, because of my research project, about some of the funding and policy that Safe Passage works within, and very importantly I knew a lot of why and how the organization was founded. This has helped to shape my understanding of the organization. My increased technological skills have opened windows for me in the work field, and also as a creative outlet. I hope to continue to use my filming, editing, and interview skills in ways that advance my passion for history and social justice.

In the future I hope to continue my education through law school, and there is a direct relationship between collecting Oral history and being a lawyer. In both endeavors hearing and understanding someone’s story, and following a history are incredibly important. History is something that is really easily applicable to the modern times, but sometimes that does not get translated in a standard history class, and History 397 did that, and did it in a way that helped me figure out a career path and future.

Amanda Lewis (Smith, Class of 2014)

            My involvement with Digital History was first and foremost, accidental. I had been interested in oral history work since taking an introductory lecture series on issues in archival practice the spring of my junior year, but did not think of oral history in terms in terms of what technology enabled or shaped it. As someone who is not particularly tech-competent, it was not the implications of digital recordings or digitally-based projects that could arise from oral history practice that attracted me to Laura Lovett’s Public History 397-VW at UMASS, but the interview project itself. I was interested in working with Safe Passage, I was interested in learning more about the history of the organization within the context of the anti-violence movement, and I was interested in learning more about oral history.

            Given the feminist methodologies we read to support our understanding of the theoretical frameworks of oral history, as well as the small size of our class (six students, from four of the five colleges), it should not come as any surprise that Laura facilitated a very collaborative learning environment. We had a wide variety of academic and technological backgrounds, and all took on responsibility for helping each other learn. Our goals were to research oral history methodology, relevant histories of the anti-violence movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and conduct 1-2 interviews each with early board members of Safe Passage (formerly Necessities or Necessities/Necesidades). These interviews would be recorded digitally, transcribed, and edited for a full cut and a fifteen-minute cut to be shared with current members of the organization and eventually stored in the archives at UMASS and Smith. As someone who did not have a lot of experiencing studying history, or utilizing the technology we would use in that course, I benefited immensely from my peers willingness to share their knowledge and experience. 

            The timeframe of our project was designed to fit into one semester and, while Laura had done much of the groundwork including contacting leaders in the organization, coordinating IRB proposals, and preparing equipment trainings, we still had a slow start as a group.  For most of us, there was a lot to learn about equipment, methodology, and specific histories before we could be reasonably be expected to begin contacting potential narrators, let alone conducting interviews. This meant that most of the interviews occurred in November, leaving a short turn-around for editing (a new skill for many of us), transcription, and further contact with narrators post-interview.  Time-management was essential, and a bit challenging, in order to get the project done on time in a way that also felt careful and respectful of our narrators.

            One issue I struggled with more personally involved audio– I am hearing impaired and it meant that I had a very difficult time hearing the narrator speaking into the microphone and aloud at the same time. We were able to accommodate this by working in pairs; someone else always checked my sound for me. In terms of editing and transcribing, the process was slow and often frustrating. I later learned about several transcription programs like Express Scribe and tools such as foot pedals that could make this process more accessible for others with hearing impairment doing similar work in future classes.

            Finally, in the interviews themselves we used digital video camcorders set up with a tripod and wireless microphones to enhance sound quality. Each interview was about an hour long and most occurred in the homes or offices of our narrators. The technology we used was fairly traditional and I suspect that made it feel more accessible to our narrators. Much of the oral history methodology we read discussed the ways that the camera impacts, shifts, and enables interactions and so we were prepared for considering some of these issues of how technology shapes encounter within the framework of oral history. Just as an interview is framed more intentionally than a casual conversation, the camera added to the sense of intention behind the interview. This was disconcerting for some narrators, and took all of us some time to adjust to.

            In the process of working with the completed interviews, we had the opportunity to put them in conversation with each other informally as a presentation for a handful of current Safe Passage staff and board members.  This allowed for dialogue between our narrators on broader organizational issues spanning the late 1970s through the late 1980s. We were interested in preserving the dialogue that the collected interview material lent itself to so nicely, and so I ended up working on a Special Studies in the subsequent semester to compile some of the footage into a short film. The film was made in iMovie and about 22 minutes long when completed. While iMovie didn’t totally support my goals of creating a polished final product, particularly given that I had no previous iMovie or FinalCut experience, it did allow me to put a variety of clips in conversation and add additional archival footage from the Sophia Smith Collection. I found that this technology, choppy transitions and all, fit very nicely with one of the key storylines within the film – namely the challenges and triumphs of feminist collective process over time. This mode of storytelling allowed a variety of voices to be heard in a way that showed the differences in perspectives on key issues including collective process, identity, and relationships to the state. The process of assembling footage for the film felt like invoking collective process in a way that referenced and underscored the history I was trying to tell.

            This question of how technology reinforces, subverts, and shapes the story being told is one that Five-College Digital Humanities Post-Bac Fellow Jeffrey Moro encouraged me to think about when trying to assemble this narrative of my experience with Digital History work. It was not a question I considered very actively when conducting Oral History interviews (I was thinking more about identity dynamics and performativity without factoring in technology as intentionally), but this became more relevant as I undertook the film.  Reflecting now on these experiences, I suspect it would have been more interesting had I considered technology as a format rather than as a tool, and would suggest this framework for students doing similar work.  Whereas a tool is simply something that one uses to execute a bigger plan, the idea of format allows for growth, change, and tension within a loosely predetermined structure – a concept that would have better suited my methodology and project goals in both the Oral History interviews and the film project.

Kate Sumner (Smith College, Class of 2014)

            In the fall of 2013, six undergraduates, including myself, from four of the Five Colleges came together in a history seminar at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, HST 397vw: Public History Workshop: Oral History of Safe Passage, a Local Domestic Violence Shelter.  The course primarily sought to co-create an oral history of Safe Passage, a domestic violence shelter in Northampton founded in the late 1970s.  For the course, we first gained a background understanding of the domestic violence movement's history and placed it in the context of general 20th-century American history.  We also learned about feminist oral history practices and methodologies.  Alongside that background work, we also explored the archival records of Safe Passage, housed in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.  This material allowed us to craft a list of potential participants in the oral history project.   From that point, we divided the list of people among the 6 of us and began contacting potential narrators.

            Initially, we planned to conduct 2 interviews each, and we planned that each interview would last 1-2 hours.  As the semester progressed, however, it became clear that that goal was too ambitious for one semester.  Because we waited until we had a solid grasp of both the requisite historical and technical backgrounds before contacting our potential narrators, we had to wait a week or so before beginning the interviews, which pushed our finish date too close to exam time.   In order to mitigate this issue, I would recommend expecting no more than one interview per student, and contacting potential narrators sooner.  Alternatively, I would advocate considering making a project of this scope a two-semester long course.  The first semester could involve the preparatory work, and students could have more time to build an even stronger understanding of the relevant historical context.  This semester would also involve gaining the technological skills necessary to complete the project, and students could begin to arrange their interviews. The next semester could involve more interview work, and there would be time before the end of the semester to transcribe the interviews, correspond with narrators, and edit the footage.  

            From my perspective as a student, this course was one of the most engaging and dynamic courses I took as an undergraduate.  It gave me concrete skills that I have been able to market to employers as evidence of my historical background, technical capabilities, and my ability to learn new processes. 

            Furthermore, I think that the small size of the class enabled the formation of a group with a considerable amount of camaraderie and familiarity.  The distribution of resources across the 5 Colleges (archives at Smith, physical location at UMass, an interview participant at Hampshire, another from Mt. Holyoke, and a visiting lecturer from Amherst College) made it feel like a truly collaboratory experience. For any professor interested in creating a similar course, I would encourage them to enroll a very small and dedicated cohort of students.  A small group, in my opinion, best serves the logistical need to coordinate the project and promote students' reliance on each other's work. 

            As a student, I would provide a nota bene to others seeking to undertake oral history work within an undergraduate classroom.  Oral histories rely on both technology and interpersonal interaction more than most other history courses, and therefore more opportunities for things to go wrong.  These additional complications do not detract from the value of such a course, but do require different, additional preparations. 

            In contrast to the work schedule of most other college courses, oral history requires a flexible schedule on the part of the student - interviews are conducted at the narrator's convenience, and can get postponed or even retracted at the narrator's request.  Unlike writing a traditional paper, a student may be eager and ready to conduct her work, but might have to wait a week or more due to logistics, only to find herself with a disproportionate amount of work to be done after that next week, from no fault of her own.  Thus, an oral history course, or other similar projects, often yields an irregular work schedule.  Similarly, there are more components of project that can go wrong than in writing a research paper.  Transportation issues and technological failure or unfamiliarity also must be taken into account.  The ethical standards around oral history also mean that narrators control their interviews, so a student could find himself throwing out the majority of his research.  This situation did not occur with our cohort, but it is a possibility within this type of classwork. 

            The project also experienced a set back when one interview was lost upon the theft of the camera equipment.  When possible, careful precautions should be made to make backup copies of interviews, stored in separate places.  However, as a potential instructor of oral history, it is important to understand that in these kinds of projects, something you can't predict will go wrong.  Plentiful precautions and familiarity with technological equipment can help prevent a total flop, but something will be lost, stolen, broken, or otherwise destroyed, and mental and emotional preparation for that event can be helpful.
            Finally, adding a camera to a conversation makes the situation much more awkward than a conversation without a camera.  Some of this awkwardness can't really be helped, but in order to mitigate it, one would ideally meet one's interviewee before plunging into a recorded interview.  If it can't happen in person, schedule at least a phone conversation to get background information and built some rapport.  It's even better to interact in person before setting up the camera.  Secondly, it can be helpful to practice interviewing a friend or fellow student so that you have some idea of what to expect from the social implications of a recorded video interview.  That practice interview can familiarize you with the technology and help you look prepared at the actual interview, and it can also prepare you for understanding how the 'soft' side of an oral history interview - the human interaction - changes when confronted with technology and recording devices. 

(5) Useful Hints and Tips [Back to top]

Typically, most oral histories aren't going to have the same kind of recording equipment as a professional, well-funded film.  However, there are a few pieces of knowledge that can help create a more watchable oral history without having much experience or expensive equipment.


            *Make sure your subject isn't backlit.  Backlighting your subject means placing a light behind them, and will make a shadow over your subject's face.  In extreme cases, you can only see an outline of your subject's head.  Make sure that the lights are placed so that they shine on your subject's face, not the back of their head. Campus%20reports/MHC%20toolkit/backlit.png

            *If possible, use electric rather than natural light.  Even though sunlight is beautiful, it changes over time, so for any oral history in which you hope to select clips and compile them in a shorter video, the change in lighting will be noticeable.  Likewise, depending on the season and time of day in which you begin filming, you might lose your light source before you finish your interview. 

            * White balance your camera before you start.  If you don't set a "true white" for your camera before you begin filming, you risk having an image that is either blue-washed or yellow-washed.  Make sure you have you lighting already set up before you white-balance - a change in lighting will change this setting.  The exact way to do this will vary with camera model, but in general, it involves pointing your lens at a matte, perfectly white object (such as a piece of paper, ideally not very reflective) and manually activating the white balance set-up with a knob or switch on your camera.  

Camera angles
            * The camera doesn't change position in most oral histories, so make sure you take the time to get your set-up correct before you start.  Before your interview, make sure to practice filming friends so that you can see what positions feel and look comfortable.  What seems visually appealing while you're filming doesn't always seem visually appealing once you replay your footage.  A good rule of thumb is to keep the camera lens at eye-level with your narrator. 

             * Keep the camera, as much as possible, level with the ground.  Remember that your camera angle often impacts how viewers interpret the interview.  A camera placed significantly above the head of your narrator (a high angle) will psychologically dwarf your narrator.  High angles often lead a viewer to interpret the subject as less important or less powerful.   Conversely, a camera placed significantly below the head of your narrator (a low angle) psychologically dominates the viewer, often yielding confusion or feeling of powerlessness.  




            * If the camera is very obviously intrusive, it can heighten the discomfort experienced by your narrator.  Assuming you are facing your narrator, place the camera close to your head (about 1 ft away), so that there is a slight lateral angle.  This way, your narrator can make eye contact with you, another human, rather than the more anxiety-producing camera.  Make sure not to place the camera too far away from your head, though, because that will frame your interviewer in profile, which doesn't make a very appealing viewing experience.



Microphones and Sound

            * Using an external microphone can provide better sound than the camera's built-in microphone.  Make sure, however, that the microphone receiver and transmitter are set to the same channel.  If they are set to different channels, your interview will have no sound.

            *Make sure you place your narrator's microphone close to their collar, but not in a way that their hair or clothing will rustle against it.

            *Bring headphones with you that you can plug into the camera to check the sound quality.  

            * In the surprisingly common event that you lose sound from the external microphone, bring a digital sound recorder that can serve as a backup source of sound.  This additional tool is helpful if your narrator changes her mind when you have the camera set up and wants to record audio only. 

Security and Backing Up Files

            * As soon as humanly possible, back up your files from the camera to an external hard drive.  Video files tend to take up a considerable amount of space, so I would recommend storing the digital files on an external hard drive, rather than your computer's internal drive.  If possible, for added security, store a second copy on a second hard drive that can be stored in a separate geographic location, or on secure cloud storage (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive).  In the event that one hard drive is stolen or damaged by accident, you won't lose your interview. 

            * Make sure that you limit access to the hard drives.  Oral histories often involve highly personal information that your narrator might want to restrict after the creation of the recording.  If you go through IRB process, your institution's IRB will likely ask you to have a plan for secure storage of any digital material.  Regardless of institutional requirements, your promise of confidentiality won't mean much if anyone can access the files before your narrator has approved the content of their interview.  

            *Expect that it will take you four hours to type one hour of footage.  To expedite the process, use a footpedal along with transcription software, such as Express Scribe.  Otherwise, you will likely spend a lot of time toggling back and forth between video playback and your word processing program.   

(6)  Teaching and Successful Group Collaboration: Faculty Perspectives [Back to top]

            Joyce Berkman, Jacqueline Castledine, and Susan Tracy

Whether you are conducting your project independently or as part of a course the following are some methods we have used successfully in the past.

Course description:

Make sure that you are very clear about what the project is and what is expected of students in terms of reading, writing and time. Let them know what the finished product will be, whether there is a final paper and or a public presentation of their work. Introduce the concept of “giving back to the community.”  Most important make sure that the students know they are not doing their own oral history project.

Department relations:

It is also important to make sure your department chair, who may be worried about course enrollment, knows that the “class” is more like conducting 10-12 independent studies than teaching a regular course. This may mean giving your chair the course description and syllabus ahead of time.

Course Meetings.

It is best to meet in a seminar format. If you make your seminar two hours a week, then the students will easily make up the extra hour (12 total) meeting in their pairs of teams and conducting the interviews. The first six weeks can be spent on the historical background and specific topic reading (i.e. domestic violence literature), oral history methodology and ethics, and learning about the people you will be interviewing. This part of the class might involve a trip to a local library or archive to look at documents. After the students are doing the interviews, then they will have plenty to share each week. Additionally, It is always good to meet with the students individually mid-semester as a kind of check-in to make sure they are understanding  their tasks and are able to complete them.

Before the project starts:

I.               Instructor(s) should initiate contact with potential interviewees and provide them a project description, goals for the project and timeline students will be working with.  Those outside of the academy are often not thinking of their time commitment in terms of semesters and it is helpful for interviewees to know how/why the timeline is set

II.             Instructor/s need to have a vision of what a successfully completed project looks like,  understanding that it is often impossible for students to interview every person they would like in a project that has a set end date.

III.           Successful student collaboration is easiest when instructor/s have set criteria for forming groups before the start of the project. This is an excellent opportunity to encourage peer mentoring, yet successful groups should include:

·      students skilled with technology- or not afraid of learning it

·      students who are comfortable interacting with those from diverse race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identities

Once the project begins:

I.      Instructors should, to the extent it is possible, help to guide the process of interviewing while allowing students the maximum input:

·      what issues they are most interested in addressing with their interviewees

·       whether or not the interviewing process will include an interview survey and/or preliminary interview. What the process for follow-up questions will be and how students will recognize the contributions of interviewee to their project.  

II.    Instructor/s should assign “check-in” dates that allow students to share their findings, concerns, challenges, etc. with classmates and instructor/s

III.  Instructors should also clearly state how accountability is measured in the process of interviewing. For instance, how many attempts should a student make at contacting an interviewee before an instructor steps in to facilitate communication, or a mutual decision is made to stop attempting contact.