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New Tool Could Help Researchers Make Better Use of Oral Histories

I called up an old high-school friend the other day, Doug Boyd, an oral historian at the University of Kentucky, to talk about the growing popularity of oral histories in sports. I’m thinking of the 770-page bestseller, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN (Little, Brown), which I’m finally delving into this week. Sports Illustrated also just did an oral-history-style piece, and Leigh Montville, one of my all-time favorites, may have started the trend with his entertaining biography of Ted Williams.

Turns out Doug had something even more interesting to tell me about. Through his work as director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, he’s developed a method for indexing audio and video recordings, making it easy for researchers to call up precise words without having to listen to endless hours of tape.

Within the next year, Boyd’s center hopes to make its search tool, an open-source software solution, available free to other libraries. He has applied for a National Leadership Grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grant would help his search software work with popular content-management systems on other campuses, including CONTENTdm, which many universities use to host their digital archives.

Included in the Nunn Center’s collection of 8,000 interviews is an extensive oral history of the desegregation of Major League Baseball, told through dozens of interviews with Albert Benjamin (Happy) Chandler, a former baseball commissioner and Kentucky governor, as well as players and others from the era.

The center also did 40 hours of interviews with William B. Keightley (aka “Mr. Wildcat”), a beloved former equipment manager for the men’s basketball team, who shared stories of working under the legendary Adolph Rupp and seeing three national championships during his 40-year tenure. Those interviews have been digitized, and the athletic department features Keightley clips at home basketball games.

Fans can go to the Keightley section of the center’s website, type in a player’s name or moment in recent UK basketball history, and up pops a transcript and audio clips where Keightley mentions the words. (Curiously, there are no matches for “Laettner.”)

Boyd, who previously worked at the University of Alabama as its library’s head of digitization, recently consulted on a project at the Bear Bryant Museum helping to preserve film footage back to the 1930s.

His latest project at Kentucky involves interviewing student veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s pretty stunning,” he says, “looking at how oral history can actually enhance a veteran’s reintegration into society and higher education.”

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