How Not to Spill Coffee on Your Tapes. Recap on the CLARIN Café on Best Practices for Preserving Oral Archives

Submitted by Linda Stokman on 4 March 2021

Blog post written by Jakob Lenardič and Dario Del Fante


The CLARIN Café, titled “How Not to Spill Coffee on Your Tapes. Best Practices for Preserving Oral Archives”, took place via Zoom on 24 February 2021 and was organized as a joint collaboration between CLARIN ERIC and the SSHOC project. It was attended by 49 participants, most of whom were researchers working either directly with oral archives or in related fields such as research libraries and archives as well as e-infrastructures.

Introducing CLARIN ERIC and SSHOC

The Café was introduced by Francesca Frontini, who is a member of the Board of Directors at CLARIN , and Monica Monachini, who is the national coordinator of the Italian CLARIN consortium. Francesca gave a brief introduction on the technical and knowledge sharing infrastructure of CLARIN and presented it in the context of oral history research and Monica presented the goals of the SSHOC project.

Watch the recording of the Intro to CLARIN and Intro to SSHOC on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

The experience of the Italian "Vademecum"

The first speaker was Silvia Calamai, who is Associate Professor of glottology and general linguistics at the University of Siena and a member of the scientific board of CLARIN-IT. She presented the Italian Vademecum, which is a document with best practices and guidelines for the preservation of oral sources. She first described the main problematic aspects of dealing with oral data in research, such as for instance the fact that researchers were historically less careful with the handling of analogue carriers than they were with written documents. In the second part of her talk, Silvia described the structure of the Vademecum, which consists of 3 documents, one dedicated to the production and description of oral sources, another to their conservation, and the third to their use and re-use.

Watch the recording The experience of the Italian "Vademecum" on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

Sonorités and the Michel Seurat sound archives

The second talk, which focused on the last two issues of the open access journal Sonorités, was given by Véronique Ginouvès, who is in charge of the CLARIN-FR centre Phonothèque MMSH – Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l'homme, and by Claire Cialone-Gregoire, who is an archivist that has edited a recent special issue of the journal. Véronique first presented the current 48th issue of the journal, which focuses on the preservation and curation practices in the ethnomusical collections of two museums in France. To showcase the collections, Véronique played a recording of Ai rescontra ma mio, a popular French burlesque song recorded on cylinder in 1900.

In the second part of the talk, Claire Cialone-Gregoire presented a special issue of the journal dedicated to the late Michel Seurat, a sociologist who worked in Lebanon and researched political aspects of Islam in the context of the Lebanese Civil War. The special issue focuses on oral interviews carried out in Lebanon and Syria by Seurat between 1981 and 1985, which among others include the testimonies of two survivors of the Hama massacre that took place in 1982.

Watch the recording Sonorités and the Michel Seurat sound archives on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

Lively discussion with researchers

A lively discussion followed the two talks, with a number of questions from researchers currently working on the publication of their own archives. For instance, a corpus linguist currently working with a multidisciplinary team made up of mathematicians, architects and historians to create the AFOr archive: a collection of different resources such as scanned oral documents, interviews, posters works and other promotional materials self-produced by Italian artisans in the 1960s. He remarked how hard it is to build a network of collaborators from different disciplines working on a single project. He therefore found the experiences of the Italian Vademecum, whose creation involved precisely such a network-building effort between researchers of different backgrounds, especially illuminating for his own endeavours. Lastly, a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Bolzano said she was inspired by the Café presentations to deposit her own spoken corpora in the ILC4CLARIN repository, which offers a platform for long-term preservation and re-use.

Watch the recording of the discussion on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

The presentation slides of this CLARIN Café can be found on the event page