Chapter 9 Creating On The Line
This chapter offers a behind-the-scenes view about the research research methods, source materials, and web technologies we used to create this open-access digital book. By making our work process more transparent, we hope that others will be inspired to produce their own publications, and improve upon our process.
Who Owns Oral History? A Creative Commons Solution
Who “owns” oral history? When an oral history narrator shares her story in response to questions posed by an interviewer, and the recording and transcript are deposited in an archive, who holds the rights to these historical source materials? Who decides whether or not they may be shared with the public, quoted in a publication, or uploaded to the web? Who decides whether someone has the right to earn money from including an interview in a commercially distributed book, video, or website? Furthermore, does Creative Commons, a licensing tool developed by the open access movement to protect copyright while increasing public distribution, offer a better solution to these questions than existing oral history protocols?[http://creativecommons.org]
Oral historians have begun to ask these types of questions as we confront new challenges of doing our work in the Internet era. At a November 2010 planning symposium for the Oral History in the Digital Age project, law and technology professor Sheldon Halpern posed the provocative question: “What do you think you own?” One of the symposium participants, Troy Reeves, reflected on its broad implications for the field. Over a decade ago, when narrators granted an oral history interview and signed a release form, they could assume that the audio/video recording and transcript “would remain under the care and control” of an archive or library, which would hold ownership rights and grant access to the public as it deemed appropriate. But the Web is dramatically revising these assumptions. Many oral history repositories have begun to share the content of their holdings online and, in the words of one archivist, believe “it is worth giving up some control for the greater good of having more people use the materials.”82 We elaborate on our thinking about how the Internet has transformed the historical profession in our open-access edited volume, Writing History in the Digital Age.83
As an alternative to traditional protocols, Jack and his student researchers began to incorporate Creative Commons language in oral history consent forms while conducting interviews in the metropolitan region of Hartford, Connecticut for the Cities Suburbs and Schools Project at Trinity College. Several interviews are featured in our freely accessible, public history web book, On the Line: How Schooling Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and many are hosted by the Trinity College Digital Repository.84 By blending interpretive text with oral interviews and other interactive features, this web-book tells the story of how real estate firms maintained the color line, mortgage lenders engaged in red-lining, families sought homes on the more desirable side of school attendance lines, and activists fought to cross, redraw, or erase these lines. We initially presented this essay as part of a broader discussion on “Whose Civil Rights Stories on the Web?” at the 2012 joint meeting of the Organization of American Historians/National Council on Public History.85
Jack: In the mid-1990s, I began to conduct oral history interviews for my dissertation research on African-American school reform activists in Milwaukee. I recorded interviews, followed standard protocols for consent forms and institutional review, and made good on my promise to transcribe and return a free copy of the tape and transcript to each of the sixty participants who kindly shared their history.86 But the “best practices” in the field left me feeling unsatisfied. Originally, I had been drawn toward oral history and public history as means of community empowerment on civil rights history, but the standard guidelines required me to ask people who freely offered their stories to sign away some of their rights.
At that time, my reference guide for consent forms was the Oral History Association’s pamphlet by John Neuenschwander, Oral History and the Law, which has since been expanded into a book.87 On the legal question of ownership, as soon as the interview is recorded, the oral history narrator initially holds the copyright, but standard practice is to prepare a consent form to transfer away those rights. As Neuenschwander explains, “The vast majority of oral historians and programs at some point secure the transfer of the interviewee’s copyright interests by means of a legal release agreement,” and offers sample language in the appendix.88 Similarly, the Oral History Association’s 2009 statement on “Principles and Best Practices” fully expects oral history participants to sign over their rights as part of the standard procedure for conducting interviews: “The interviewer should secure a release form, by which the narrator transfers his or her rights to the interview to the repository or designated body, signed after each recording session or at the end of the last interview with the narrator.”89 As I understood copyright law, since I wished to create a transcript of the interview and freely quote from it in my scholarly writing, the transfer of copyright away from the narrator was in my best interest.
But here was the ugly irony: as a white scholar of the civil rights movement, my consent form required African American activists to “sign over” rights to their oral history interview. At that time, the best arrangement I could negotiate was a two-step process, because I was working with two different repositories. First, my consent form asked oral history narrators to transfer their copyrights directly to me, which in turn, I donated with the tapes and transcripts to two institutions: the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum (a local public history organization that was best positioned to share these stories with the African-American community) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library archives (a better-funded, predominantly white institution that was better equipped to share this history more widely on the emerging Internet). I intentionally partnered with both repositories, and kept my promise to give tapes and transcripts back to all parties, to counter prior generations of white academics and journalists who had come into Milwaukee’s black community to “scoop” up stories, while leaving nothing behind. The 1995 version of my oral history consent form included this key language, paraphrased from Neuenschwander’s 1993 pamphlet:
I agree to be interviewed and tape recorded by Jack Dougherty, as part of his dissertation research on the recent history of African-American education in Milwaukee. At the end of the research project, the original tapes and edited transcripts will be donated to the Milwaukee Urban Archives at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum. These materials will be identified by my name and made available to the public for scholarly and educational purposes, unless exceptions are listed below…
I also grant to Jack Dougherty any title to copyright, property right, or literary rights in the recording(s) and their use in publication, as well as to any reproductions, transcripts, indexes, or finding aids produced from the recording(s).
My participation in this project is entirely voluntary, and I may withdraw at any time prior to its conclusion and the donation of the materials to the Archives.
Check here to receive a free copy of the tape.
Check here to receive a free copy of any transcriptions (whole or partial) for the opportunity to proofread or clarify your spoken words.
Yet I was frustrated with this language about copyright transfer. In my eyes, the wording was a necessary evil to preserve these valuable oral histories in a university archive (whose staff at that time coached me on the consent form) and to allow me to quote extensively from them in my eventual book (as required by my publisher’s copyright permissions process). Understandably, many Black Milwaukeeans were highly skeptical or hesitant when I explained the terms of the consent form. Several expressed deep concern that it asked them to sign away their life stories, which I assured them was not the case. A few agreed to be interviewed but did not sign the form. A few others refused to be interviewed at all. One persuaded me, after our interview, to write up a special consent form that preserved her copyright and granted me permission to quote specified passages in my writing, but did not extend any rights to others, such as the archives. Eventually, over sixty oral history participants did agree to sign my consent form, for which I was grateful. Some signed in exchange for a free copy of the recording and transcript as a contribution to their own family histories. Others were motivated by the public good of preserving and sharing their civil rights stories through one or both of my archival partner organizations. Together, all of these conversations challenged me to think more deeply about who benefited from this contractual arrangement. If activists freely shared their civil rights stories with me, did I have the right to profit as a professional historian? The process expanded my thinking about oral history and the public good, and upon receiving an academic book contract, I returned my share of royalties (and later, prize money and speaking fees) back to the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum to continue their public history work.
Given my understanding of oral history and copyright law as a graduate student in the mid-1990s, this was the best user-friendly consent form I could envision. Looking back, there were some alternatives that deserved more consideration. For instance, I could have expanded on the copyright transfer language by adding a line that retained the narrators’ rights to utilize their own interviews during their lifetimes.90 But adding this clause fails to address the underlying issue of transfer of copyright ownership away from the narrator, and out of their family’s hands at the end of their lifetime. Another alternative I could have explored further was to ask narrators to make their interviews part of the public domain. But this option would have gone to the extreme of eliminating all of their rights under copyright law, and furthermore, at that time I could not find useful examples of this approach by oral historians.91 Under these circumstances, this mid-1990s consent form was the best I could do at the time, yet it left a bitter taste and a strong desire to find a better model in the future.
Candace: When I began working with the On The Line public history web-book project in the summer of 2011, one of my tasks was to conduct oral history interviews with Hartford civil rights activists. At this point, our research team had stopped using conventional consent forms (which asked participants to “sign over” all rights to their interviews) and had begun using a new form that Jack developed with Creative Commons language. Basically, Creative Commons (CC) is a standardized license that maintains the original copyright for the creator of a work, and allows it to be shared more widely with the public, with certain restrictions if desired. Initially released in 2002 with support from the Center for the Public Domain, there are now six types of CC licenses that offer different combinations of licensing terms for source attribution (BY), no derivative works (ND), share alike (SA), and non-commercial (NC) use.92
At present, our standard oral history consent form uses the CC By Attribution—NonCommercial license, with this key language:
I voluntarily agree to participate in an oral history video interview about [insert topic.] I can choose to pause, stop, or erase the recording at any time during the interview.
Afterwards, I grant permission for the oral history video recording, with my name and a summary or transcript, to be distributed to the public for educational purposes, including formats such as print, public programming, and the Internet.
Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my interview, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial 4.0 International license (BY-NC). This allows the public to freely copy, remix, and build on my interview, but only if they credit the original source and use it for non-commercial purposes.
In return, the interviewer will send one free copy of the interview recording, and summary or transcript, to my address below.
See the full oral history consent form in this book.
We prefer the Creative Commons (CC) consent form because it clearly keeps the copyright in the hands of the oral history interview participant, but allows us to freely share the recording and transcript on our open-access public history book and library repository, where individuals and organizations may copy and circulate it, as long as they credit the original source and do not charge any fees. This NonCommercial restriction assures participants that other people cannot profit by selling their interviews, unless the participant wishes to do so under a separate agreement. As the Creative Commons “Frequently Asked Questions” section clarifies, once a CC license is applied to a work, it cannot be revoked, but all CC licenses are non-exclusive, meaning that the holder of the copyright (in this case, the interview participant) may grant additional licenses to other parties (such as a for-profit book or movie, if desired). Also, CC licenses do not limit “fair use” provisions of existing U.S. copyright law, meaning that commentators have the same rights to report on or quote from the original work.93 Furthermore, CC licenses are increasingly used by leading knowledge-based institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare project and the Public Library of Science (PLOS). Overall, we believe that this combination of intellectual property tools—traditional copyright with Creative Commons licensing—–fits better with our primary goal of historical preservation and public education than does traditional copyright alone.
In Hartford, a specific oral history interview we conducted with school integration activist Elizabeth Horton Sheff deserves mention, because she took our Creative Commons consent form one step further by renegotiating its terms, just before we began our video recording. Sheff agreed with our goal of preserving her oral history for the public good, but her primary concern was to avoid being quoted out of context, as she had experienced with journalists in the past. She wanted her oral history interview to be made available in its totality on the web, but not to allow others to create a modified or excerpted version. Fortunately, Sheff was familiar with Creative Commons because her son is in the independent music business. She asked for a “no derivatives” restriction, and on the spot, we modified the consent form license to the ByAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives CC license. As a result, her video recorded interview and transcript both appear in the Trinity College library digital repository, but to respect her restriction, we blocked users from downloading a copy of the video, to make it harder for them to create an edited version. Yet anyone can move the video time slider on their web browser to watch only a certain portion if desired (such as minutes 28 to 32). Furthermore, anyone may download the transcript of the interview, and quote from the text under “fair use” guidelines.94
Oral History Video with Elizabeth Horton Sheff, 2011
We do not contend that Creative Commons has resolved all of our questions about who “owns” oral history, nor do we claim expertise in intellectual property law. But as oral historians seeking alternatives, we believe that this combination—–traditional copyright with Creative Commons licensing—–fulfills our dual needs to maintain the rights of individual participants while sharing history with the public.
About the contributors: Jack Dougherty and Candace Simpson (Trinity 2012) developed these ideas while conducting oral history interviews for this book, and co-presented at the 2012 joint meeting of the Organization of American Historians/National Council on Public History. Jack later expanded the essay for publication.
Oral History Consent Form
This sample oral history consent form emerged from our thinking about “Who Owns Oral History? A Creative Commons Solution” in this book, and may be adapted and modified.
[Insert title of] Oral History Project
Informed consent and copyright permission form
I voluntarily agree to participate in an oral history video interview about [insert general topic, such as: my memories and experiences about schooling, housing, and civil rights in the Hartford region.] I can choose to pause, stop, or erase the recording at any time during the interview. Afterwards, I grant permission for the oral history video recording, with my name and a summary or transcript, to be distributed to the public for educational purposes, including formats such as print, public programming, and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my interview, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial 4.0 International license (BY-NC). This allows the public to freely copy, remix, and build on my interview, but only if they credit the original source and use it for non-commercial purposes. In return, the interviewer will send one free copy of the interview recording, and summary or transcript, to my address below.
Phone and/or email:
If younger than 18, parent/guardian signature:
Interviewer’s signature (to agree with CC license):
Questions? [Insert project director(s) name and contact info, plus project website]
Keep one signed copy for project files and offer one copy to participant for their records
Publishing On the Line with Bookdown
This open-access book is published using open-source tools, featuring Bookdown with RStudio and GitHub. Publishing with Bookdown allows authors to compose in Markdown (an easy-to-read-and-write computer syntax that works on multiple platforms) and publish in multiple formats (static HTML web edition, PDF edition, ePUB ebook edition, and Microsoft Word documents). Hosting the book in a public GitHub repository, and publishing it with GitHub Pages, easily makes the original text of the book, as well as the published products, available on the public web. For a technical guide to publishing with Bookdown, see Yihui Xie, Bookdown: Authoring Books and Technical Documents with R Markdown, 2018, https://bookdown.org/yihui/bookdown/.
An alternative book publishing platform to consider is Pressbooks. This open-source modification of WordPress multisite also supports multiple publication formats (HMTL web edition, PDF edition, ePUB ebook edition. Authors can use the http://Pressbooks.com paid hosting service. Or, users with advanced WordPress and some system admin skills can download the code from http://github.com/pressbooks and run their own self-hosted book publishing site.
Setup RStudio, Bookdown, and TinyTeX
Below are steps we followed to setup the publishing platform for this book, using our Macintosh OS 10.14 computers. The same general principles also should apply to Windows computers. No special knowledge is required, but these steps will be easier if users are adventurous or already familiar with R Studio, GitHub, or editing code.
- Install R Project statistical programming language https://www.r-project.org to build your book with Bookdown. (Yes, we too were surprised to use a statistics package to publish a book, but it works!). See screenshot
- Install the free RStudio Desktop to make R easier to use with a visual editor. See screenshot
- Inside RStudio, select the Packages tab, and select Install. See screenshot
- Inside RStudio, install the “bookdown” package to build your book, and select Install Dependencies. See screenshot
- Bookdown now should be successfully installed in RStudio. See screenshot
- Inside RStudio, install the “tinytex” package for Bookdown to create a PDF edition of your book. See screenshot
- Don’t forget: in RStudio console, type
tinytex::install_tinytex()and press return to finish the installation. See screenshot
If tinytex installation error
- In the section above, we received this error message on our Mac computers:
/usr/local/bin not writeable. We resolved by reading the software developer’s GitHub issue https://github.com/yihui/tinytex/issues/24 and following these steps:
- In the Mac Applications > Utilities folder, open the Terminal application.
- Carefully type
sudo chown -Rwhoami
:admin /usr/local/binand press return.
- Carefully type (without “sudo”)
~/Library/TinyTeX/bin/x86_64-darwin/tlmgr path addand press return.
- Close the Terminal application.
- In the RStudio console, type
tinytex::install_tinytex(force = TRUE)and press return.
Download and Build a Sample Book
- Create a free GitHub account https://github.com to share code repositories and publish book editions online.
- In your web browser, log into your GitHub account, go to the software developer’s bookdown-minimal repo https://github.com/yihui/bookdown-minimal, and fork a copy to your GitHub account. To learn about forking in GitHub, see this chapter http://datavizforall.org/github.html in the Data Visualization for All book.
- Install GitHub Desktop https://desktop.github.com to transfer files between your online GitHub repo and local computer
- In your web browser, go to your forked copy of
bookdown-minimaland click the green
Clone or Downloadbutton and select
Open in Desktop. This should automatically open the GitHub Desktop application, and you can navigate to copy the code repo to a folder on your local computer.
- In RStudio in the upper-right corner, select Project > Open Project to open the
bookdown-minimalfolder on your local computer. See screenshot
- In RStudio, open the
index.Rmdfile and make some simple edits to the text of this minimal book. For example, remove the hashtag
#comment symbol in line 8 to “uncomment” and activate the PDF book option. Save your edits. See screenshot
- Optional: Use your preferred text editor, such as Atom editor https://atom.io, to modify the text.
- In RStudio, upper-right corner, select the Build tab, select Build Book, and choose All Formats to build both the gitbook-style static web edition and PDF edition.
- If RStudio successfully builds both editions of your minimal book, the output will be saved into your
bookdown-minimalfolder, in a subfolder named
_book, because that’s how this sample is configured. The RStudio internal browser should automatically open your web edition (and it’s not a very good browser, so feel free to close it). Also, open the subfolder and inspect the PDF edition. If RStudio found any errors, they will appear in the Build viewer. See screenshot
- Hint: In future sessions with RStudio, you may need to select Packages tab and click Update to keep bookdown and other software packages up to date. See screenshot
- Close RStudio.
Publish your Book with GitHub Pages
- Open GitHub Desktop and navigate to the
bookdown-minimalfolder on your local computer. Write a summary to commit (save) the changes you made above to your master branch, and push this version to your online GitHub repo.
- In your web browser, go to your online GitHub repo, with a web address similar to
https://github.com/USERNAME/bookdown-minimal(insert your GitHub username).
- In your GitHub repo, select Settings, scroll down to the GitHub Pages section (which is a free web hosting service to publish your code and book editions on the public web). Select Master Branch as your source, and Save.
- Scroll down to this section again, and the web address of your published site should appear. Copy this address.
- In a new browser tab, paste the web address from above, and at the end add
_book/index.htmlbecause this sample is configured to store the web edition of your book in this subfolder. Your web address should be similar to:
Customize your Bookdown and GitHub settings
- To see customized settings for this book, go to its online repository https://github.com/ontheline/ontheline-bookdown
- In the
_bookdown.ymlfile, the output directory is set to build all book formats into the
- The GitHub Pages settings for this repo (which you cannot view) is set to publish from the
master/docsfolder, to match the output directory above. This simplifies the published web address to this format:
- Most of the Bookdown configuration settings appear in the
index.Rmdfile. Read more about these options in the software developer’s technical guide, https://bookdown.org/yihui/bookdown/.
- In addition, this GitHub Pages repo is published with a custom domain name https://OnTheLine.trincoll.edu. Learn more about custom domain names at https://help.github.com/articles/using-a-custom-domain-with-github-pages/, which usually requires purchasing a domain name from a web hosting service (such as http://ReclaimHosting.com). Adding a GitHub Pages custom domain name creates an additional
CNAMEfile in the
docssubfolder. Be careful not to delete it (or place a copy in a subfolder for safekeeping).
- This book also includes a custom
404.htmlfile that was manually transferred into the
docssubfolder, since it is not automatically built by Bookdown.
- This book also includes a custom
google-analytics-otl.htmlfile in the root-level of repo (where bookdown looks for it) and also is manually transferred to the
docssubfolder (since bookdown does not appear to copy it to there on each build). This tracks web traffic with Google Analytics.
On The Line Style Guide with Bookdown-flavored Markdown
Use brackets and parentheses for an embedded link
Use parentheses only for a non-embedded link (http://example.com)
Similarly, display URL with angle brackets: http://example.com
If necessary, use HTML to create link that opens in a new page
Zotero Settings and Footnotes
This workflow uses open-source Zotero bibliography manager (http://zotero.org) with Better BibTeX extension (https://retorque.re/zotero-better-bibtex/). See Better BibTeX installation. This allows the author to insert footnote codes (example:
@tyackOneBestSystem1974) and configure bookdown settings (such as Chicago note format) that pull footnotes from a recently downloaded Zotero collection, rather than typing each note directly into the book.
Zotero preferences > Better BibTeX
- add URLs to BibTeX export > in a note field
- when ref has both DOI and URL, export > both
To export from Zotero:
- select library > right-click to export collection
- select format > Better BibTex and leave checkboxes blank (I do not use “keep updated”)
save output as ontheline.bib (or whatever matches your config settings) and save into book repo
- Clarify that Chicago full-note appears to be working exactly as it was designed, but perhaps could be modified for this book:
- newspaper notes currently show only month and year; ideal to also show date
second instance currently appears in abbreviated note (Author); ideal to show full note in every instance in the web version
A text-only footnote.96
BibText footnote with semi-colons to separate cites:97
Markdown caret-footnote, which can accept multiple references with complex punctuation.98
Embedding images and iframes
Insert image using Markdown syntax:
Watch the Kaltura Video: embedded HTML iframe from secure https
REMINDER: Insert caption, shortlinks, and footnote immediately afterwards in body text, in italics.
About this book
On The Line is an open-access, born-digital, book-in-progress by Jack Dougherty and contributors at Trinity College, Hartford CT, USA. This work is copyrighted by the authors and freely distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Interational License. Learn about our open-access policy and code repository and how to cite our work.
This book-in-progress was last updated on: 2019-02-13
Jack Dougherty and Candace Simpson, “Who Owns Oral History? A Creative Commons Solution,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, ed. Doug Boyd et al. (Washington, DC: Institute of Library and Museum Services, 2012).↩
Troy Reeves, “What Do You Think You Own,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, 2012.↩
Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds., Writing History in the Digital Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013).↩
Jack Dougherty et al., “Whose Civil Rights Stories on the Web? Authorship, Ownership, Access and Content in Digital History,” Conference Session (Milwaukee, WI: http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cssp_papers/40/, April 2012).↩
Jack Dougherty, More Than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004) with interviews archived at Jack Dougherty, “More Than One Struggle Oral History Project Records,” University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Libraries (http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-mil-uwmmss0217, 2004), and some digitized at “March on Milwaukee,” University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Libraries (https://uwm.edu/marchonmilwaukee/, n.d.)↩
John Neuenschwander, Oral History and the Law, Revised Edition, Oral History Association Pamphlet Series No. 1 (Albuquerque: Oral History Association, 1993), originally published in 1985, has been updated and retitled as John A Neuenschwander, A Guide to Oral History and the Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)↩
Neuenschwander, , p. 64. He also cites case law that the copyright may be jointly held by the interviewee and interviewer.↩
Oral History Association, “Principles and Best Practices” (http://www.oralhistory.org/do-oral-history/principles-and-practices/, 2009).↩
As I recall, one reason I did not include this clause in the consent form was because, in my mind at that time, I feared that the suggested language from the 1993 Oral History Association pamphlet (p. 46) and its emphasis on death might have scared away some of my elderly participants: “Allow me to copy, use and publish my oral memoir in part or in full until the earlier of my death or [insert date].” By contrast, Neuenschwander’s 2009 edition (p. 116) includes more life-affirming language: “[In return for transferring copyright], the Center grants me a nonexclusive license to utilize my interview/s during my lifetime.”↩
Neuenschwander’s 2009 edition now includes this sample language: “In making this gift I fully understand that my interview/s will not be copyrighted by me or the Oral History Program but will be immediately placed in the public domain. This decision is intended to provide maximum usage by future researchers” (p. 85).↩
Elizabeth Horton Sheff, “Oral History Interview on Sheff Vs. O’Neill” (http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cssp_ohistory/16, July 2011).↩
This is a footnote, with no reference↩
Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier; Tyack, The One Best System.↩
On this theme, see Jack Dougherty, “Review of ’Connecticut’s Public Schools: A History, 1650-2000’ by Christopher Collier,” Connecticut History 50, no. 1 (2011): 120–22. On a different theme, see Jack Dougherty et al., “School Choice in Suburbia: Test Scores, Race, and Housing Markets,” American Journal of Education 115, no. 4 (August 2009): 523–48, pp. 33-35↩
Dougherty et al., ↩
Ilyankou and Dougherty, “Map,” 2017↩