LOS ANGELES — Oral historians of the Armenian Genocide gathered in Los Angeles on April 1-2, to share information about their collections and consider issues of utilization, digitization, preservation and archiving. The conference was organized by AEF Chair in Modern Armenian History, Richard Hovannisian, and the UCLA Oral History Research Center, with support from the Near Eastern Center, Bob and Nora Movel Fund and the Souren and Verkin Papazian Fund.
Participants from Canada, Mexico and various universities and centers in the United States began their weekend with a private tour of the Shoah Foundation Institute’s enormous collection of Holocaust survivor testimony housed at the University of Southern California.
The methods of preservation, digitization, indexing and utilization of the more than 50,000 interviews were explained by Karen Jungblut, director of research and documentation; Sam Gustman, assistant dean of USC Libraries; Kim Simon, managing director of the Shoah Foundation and Stephen Smith, the foundation’s executive director. Demonstrations were given of the Institute’s preservation and access systems as well as the digital access platforms. It is of great interest and encouragement that the Foundation is now prepared to expand its focus to the Armenian, Rwandan and other genocides. The large archive of Dr. J. Michael Hagopian’s Armenian Film Foundation (AFF) is now being prepared for transfer to the Shoah Foundation Institute, according to Smith and AFF president, Gerald Papazian, who participated in all of the weekend activities. Sara Chitjian, daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors, hosted a luncheon at USC for the attendees.
At the UCLA Young Research Library
The afternoon session on April 1 convened in the UCLA Young Research Library, where a team of specialists coordinated by Teresa Barnett, head of the Oral History Center, discussed matters of digitization and preservation and legal and technical issues relating to the use of the survivor testimonies. In exchanges among the participants, it became obvious that the state of the various collections varies widely. Some are primarily audiocassette interviews, while others are largely videotaped sessions of survivors, who are seen as they speak. It is estimated that there are collectively some 5,000 existing interviews of survivors, when the collections that are known to exist in Europe, the Middle East and Armenia are taken into account. One or two of the collections remain in their original condition and are therefore at risk, whereas most have backup copies or else have been digitized. Most of the 800 interviews in the UCLA collection, for example, have not only been digitized but have also been transcribed into Armenian and then, with students in a course in Armenian oral history, have passed through a preliminary translation into English. At the end of the session, it was suggested that as a first step, a grand index of all interviews worldwide be created which would include the name, place and date of birth of the interviewee, and, if possible, the language and length of the interview.