Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Equipment suggestions for doing oral history fieldwork in Newfoundland

A couple people have recently asked for information about what equipment to get for doing oral history interviews in Newfoundland and Labrador. I’ve got a couple recommendations which I’ll present here, which are intended primarily for community groups doing basic interviews. I’ll stick to equipment that I think is easy to use, available in the province, and affordable for small groups working with small budgets. I’m also going to focus on audio interviews, primarily. If you are collecting people’s memories, family stories, or community history, audio might be all you need. If you are documenting a craft skill, or a performance tradition like dancing, video might be better.

For basic oral history interviews, we’ve used a couple different digital audio recorders here in the ICH office. We’ve bought most of our equipment locally through Long and McQuade and have had good service from them. They also rent equipment, fairly affordably, if you are looking at a short term project.

Two simple recorders we’ve used from them are the Zoom H2n and Roland R-05 recorders. Both those are in the $180-$200 range, and are easy to use and set up. The work a lot like a digital camera, with a memory card you can pop out and into a card reader on your computer. They also sell a Tascam recorder, slightly cheaper, which has decent reviews, but which I’ve never used.

We’ve also just purchased a new slightly higher-end Roland - 6-channel Digital Field Audio Recorder, which retails for around $500. It is still easy to use, and has the large XLR jacks for more serious external microphones. If you are going to be doing a lot of recording, and have a budget for a better recorder with more options, it is a good, locally-available machine. If you are just starting out, and have a smaller budget, you will still get good recordings with the Zoom and Roland R-05’s built-in mics.

If you are going to be embarking on a project with our ICH office, and want your information shared on Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative (DAI), we’d recommend that you purchase an external USB harddrive to backup your media and data files. This will make it a lot easier when the time comes for us to help you upload your community collection. We have a variety of them in our office, most of them purchased through Staples or Costco. The prices of these are always changing, and I don’t have a particular recommendation for brand, but expect to pay anywhere from $100-$200 for a 1 or 2 TB drive. If you are doing a lot of photos, audio interviews, or video, pay a bit more and get larger than you think you’ll need. The prices are always coming down, and now 2 and 3 TB drives are pretty available at reasonable prices.

So, for $300-$500 you can get a good audio recorder and external harddrive. If you are looking at buying something for a project, call me at 1-888-739-1892 ext 2, or email and I’ll help you out as much as I can. We love seeing community oral history projects done right, and want to help communities get their collections online. We can help you get your project set up, and help you sort out what information you will need to collect along with your photos and audio, and even get you started with a spreadsheet to track it all and get it ready for upload to the DAI.

If you are REALLY into audio, I’d highly recommend you check out the website maintained by Andy Kolovos at the Vermont Folklife Centre. It has great reviews of a lot of different equipment. And I’m dying to know what he thinks of his wife's new Tascam iM2 mic for iPhone! Tascam, anytime you want me to do a product review, let me know!

- Dale Jarvis

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