Friday, June 1, 2007

Cool New Oral History Equipment

If you are still using old fashioned tapes to record oral history's time to go shopping. I've just completed some interviews using digital recording equipment. I will never go back to old fashioned tapes.

I have a drawer full of tapes from earlier interviews. It seems it would always be at a crucial moment in an interview that the tape would stop, and I'd have to turn it over, meanwhile missing some great nugget, before turning the recorder on again. Then there is the problem of safely storing tapes over years. I've often used micro-recorders, since they are small and unobtrusive, but I'm not sure how to make copies of those tapes. And when using them, I have to listen through much of an interview to get to a part I'm trying to find. These difficulties have always seemed to be just part of using tape recorders for research.

My new digital recorder, an Olympus WS-300M, is smaller than my micro-recorders. It is barely larger than an I-Pod Shuffle. In high quality, non-stereo mode, it can record for 17 hours. No more turning the tape over! One of the best things about a digital recorder is that you can quickly and easily upload an interview to your computer. This means that all my research files can be in one place. No need to carry my only copy of a tape around while heading off to a writing spot. I can listen to an interview on my laptop. And it is easier to skip around to different parts of the interview.

What drew me to this technology was that I needed to conduct some oral history interviews on the telephone (recorded with permission, of course!). I found an amazing little microphone for this. It's called an Olympus TP7 (TP for telephone pick-up). From the way it looks on-line, I was sure it couldn't possibly work. One side of the device fits into your ear. On the outside is a tiny microphone. It plugs into the digital recorder. When conducting the interview, you put your phone to the ear that has this device in it. Sure enough, it records both side of the conversation.

I also purchased a small external microphone, an Olympus ME15, to use during in-person interviews. The recorder itself has a microphone, but I got the external one because Amazon customer reviews recommended it, and I'd just as soon spend a few extra dollars for better sound quality.

You can spend more, or less, but I was able to purchase all of these items at for about $120, not counting shipping. Highly recommended for anyone who does oral history interviews.