CAFe Speaker Series: Speaking with the Past: Novel forms of access to spoken word collections

Event Start Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2022 - 4:00 pm

Location: Virtual on Zoom

Douglas W. Oard
Professor, iSchool

Over the past century, the British Library collected more than 70,000 oral history interviews. Recent years have seen dramatic acceleration in the rate at which similar materials are being created and indexed. Over the course of a single decade around the turn of the century, the Shoah Foundation interviewed more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. And in just the past decade Story Corps has collected more than 100,000 interviews. What will we do with this cornucopia of stories? Often when we think of new challenges, we draw inspiration from the ways in which we have done similar things in the past. So it is with spoken word collections, where our first inclination has been to conceptualize spoken word materials as a document type. That perspective makes it possible for us to find spoken word materials in the ways we find documents. But the dawn of smart speakers, chatbots, and other conversational appliances challenges us to imagine other ways of interacting with spoken heritage materials. Among these, perhaps the most natural might be simply to talk with them. In this talk I will consider what it would take to do just that. I’ll draw on three projects in which colleagues and I have explored what such systems might be like, with an eye toward illuminating both the potentials and the challenges involved.

Douglas W. Oard


Douglas W. Oard is a Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park (USA), with joint appointments in the College of Information Studies (Maryland’s iSchool) and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). With a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, his research interests center around the use of emerging technologies to support information seeking, and he is perhaps best known for his work on cross-language information retrieval. Additional information is available at




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