• Interior view of the Philological Library of the FU Berlin, Brain City Berlin

    New platform for contemporary witness interviews

“Oral-History.Digital” is the name of a portal that went online this week. Researchers and those interested in history can, after prior registration, access more than 2,000 eyewitness interviews free of charge. The University Library of the Freie Universität Berlin is a partner in the project funded by the DFG.

Voices from back then. Voices “from below”. Voices that have not been heard before or can no longer be heard: Oral History documents these voices by means of eyewitness interviews and therefore also brings perspectives into the scientific context that would otherwise be lost forever.

The recently launched online platform “Oral-History.Digital” (oh.d) offers researchers and those interested in history access to contemporary witness interviews from various projects and institutions that were previously difficult to access. More than 2,000 interviews have already been filed on the platform, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). As an audio or video file – and sometimes supplemented by materials such as transcripts or photos. The topics are varied: Those persecuted by National Socialism have their say, as do miners from the Ruhr area, former residents of Colonia Dignidad, punks and children of the war.

The FU Berlin is one of the six partner institutions collaborating in the project. “With the ‘Oral-History.Digital’ portal, the Freie Universität Berlin makes a wide variety of biographical evidence from different historical eras accessible. At the same time, the platform supports research projects inside and outside the university in archiving, indexing and providing contemporary witness interviews,” says Prof. Dr. Günter M- Ziegler, Brain City Ambassador and President of the university. For the FU Berlin, the portal is “another important step in expanding its expertise in the field of memory culture, oral history, and digital humanities.” The archive “Deutsches Gedächtnis” at the FernUniversität Hagen and the Workshop of Remembrance at the Hamburg Research Centre for Contemporary History are also involved as partners in oh.d. Together with the FU Berlin, they are the largest Oral History institutions in Germany and are contributing their collections to the project. The University of Erlangen is testing the portal for a study on migration history. The Bavarian Archive for Speech Signals at the University of Munich ensures long-term archiving and supports the indexing of interviews through speech recognition, and the Chair of Media Informatics at the University of Bamberg looks after the interfaces to the standards data, search functionalities and supports rights management.

Almost 30 pilot archives are also involved in the development of the platform, including the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary Historical Research, the House of the History of the Ruhr Area, the Westphalian State Museum for Industrial Culture, the Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camp memorials, the Berlin State Museums and the Universities of Halle, Erfurt and Bochum.

Oral-History.Digital has two user groups:

  • Researchers and interested parties from education and the public can search the stored interviews across collections using filter and full-text searches and, after prior registration and activation, view or listen to them. A differentiated access control protects the personal rights of the interviewees.
  • Museums, universities or foundations can upload audio and video interviews from projects with accompanying materials, transcribe them using software and tag them.

The interviews stored on “Oral-History.Digital” will be permanently available to users. In the second funding phase of the project, which started this year and runs until 2026, search options and editing options are to be improved, among other things. The FU Berlin wants to expand the infrastructure as a scientific service for researchers and archive partners in the long term. (vdo)



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