At the start of this project, we spoke with a number of high school and college teachers who used video with their classes. Many described to us how a quick five-minute dip into a historical video or witness interview could help students visualize the history they were learning. It could also be a welcome break within a long lecture. As they described this practice, I found myself thinking of these video interludes as “informational cul-de-sacs” – a brief detour from the main through-line of a lecture, helpful for context, but a detour nonetheless. The JSTOR Labs team couldn’t help but wonder: was it possible to make the video more central?
One of the reasons for posing this question was the richness of the videos that we had to work with on the project. When we first spoke with the filmmaker Peter Kunhardt about this project, he described the interviews he filmed for his documentaries and bemoaned the fact that “…no matter how fascinating the interview, important information is edited out of the final project.” When we saw the uncut interviews that made up the raw material for King in the Wilderness, his HBO documentary about Martin Luther King’s last three years, we understood. Each interview was a treasure trove of important, witnessed history – it would be a shame for it to end up on the cutting room floor, unpreserved and unavailable for research and teaching. It would also be disappointing for this material to end up being used “merely” as an informational cul-de-sac.
And so, I am thrilled to announce the release of the Interview Archive. This prototype includes all 19 uncut interviews filmed for King in the Wilderness – interviews with civil rights leaders like John Lewis and Marian Wright Edelman, who made history alongside MLK. Each video interview is synced with a full transcript. As you watch, you’ll see contextual topics appear next to the video. Click on these for quick background information from Wikipedia, to find other mentions of the topic in the Interview Archive, or to find articles and chapters in JSTOR and images from Artstor related to the topic. We are excited by this ability to deep-link the interviews both between themselves and with material outside of the Interview Archive, and just as excited by the promises of the underlying knowledge graph technology.
I should signal that the Interview Archive is not yet fully-fledged, but instead is a JSTOR Labs prototype (see this recent blog post for more information about what we mean by that). At this point, it contains the source interviews from a single documentary; enough, we think, to convey the concept and hopefully useful if you happen to be teaching or researching this specific topic. Still, we suspect that for this to be a truly valuable resource, we will need to add a great deal more content. We’re eager to hear what you think of the Interview Archive and what additional subjects or material you would like to see it contain.
Most importantly, I hope you take the time to listen to the important stories told in the interviews currently archived, using the contextual topics to find and understand the stories most meaningful to you. These interviews are witnessed history, and as such they are worth far more than a quick five-minute detour. Explore them and learn.