By Steven Sielaff
It is hard to believe that it has been nearly one year now since I was approached with a very unique opportunity. I was working as a newly appointed staff member of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History (BUIOH) when then-Senior Editor Elinor Maze asked if I would be interested in joining the ranks of H-OralHist and guiding the listserv’s transition to a new web-based format, the H-Net Commons.
My journey began with a nomination to the H-OralHist editorial team, a journey I took with BUIOH Editor Michelle Holland. For the uninitiated, H-OralHist originally served as an e-mail subscription listserv for those interested in current topics in the field of oral history. Participants could submit a question, a news announcement, or details on an upcoming conference or event, and H-OralHist would circulate that information to its membership. For every topic, members had the ability to respond and provide further information or answers as they saw fit. The H-OralHist editors would moderate this discussion, making sure the flow of information stayed relevant.
After our induction in October 2013, Michelle and I became the first editors trained in the new web-based system. Previously, editors merely interacted with listserv members via e-mail exchanges using the H-Net mail server. The H-Net Commons has a much more robust interface to navigate, including both the public face through which the entire membership interact, plus the back-end review system where editors select and work with submissions. The new features and training are quite substantial. H-Net Commons now provides multiple avenues of interaction, ranging from the familiar discussion posts to the ability to upload photos, write blog posts and more.
While Michelle took the editorial reigns of H-OralHist in early 2014, still operating under the old listserv system, I worked with the H-Net administrators to prepare our list for migration to the new Commons platform. In late March, it was our turn in the migration schedule, and we went live on the new platform in April 2014. Michelle and I worked out the initial bugs, and pretty soon the conversations were flowing again. Users of the new H-OralHist may now choose how they stay on top of new discussions. They can continue to have individual topics pop up in their e-mail inbox, receive a digest system for daily summaries, or work exclusively with the new online platform. The Commons functions much like a typical online forum now, allowing one to reply to discussions from the topic page. For those interested, the archive of prior discussions still exists and is available from the splash page sidebar under “Discussion Logs.”
At the moment, the remainder of the H-OralHist editorial team is working through the new training. We have had one successful editorial transition already this summer, with two more planned for the rest of the year. My hope is that as we enter 2015, the entire staff will have the necessary experience under their belts and editorial shifts will proceed like clockwork. As for me, I am currently revisiting the old resource materials and adding/cleaning links to the various oral history collections and centers across the world. Additionally, with the help of Oral History Association President Cliff Kuhn, we have planned an H-OralHist open forum event for this year’s annual meeting in Madison, WI. It is scheduled for noon on Thursday, October 9th. It will be an opportunity for anyone — especially our 3690 subscribers — to stop by and ask questions about the new web interface or offer suggestions on what other tools we should employ on the Commons. I hope I will get an opportunity to meet many of you there as we continue the discussion on the future of this invaluable resource we call H-OralHist!
Headline image credit: Migrating birds. Public domain via Pixabay.