Friday, November 09, 2007

Hmong Voices oral history videos online

Videos are now online from Hmong Voices, a project by the Center for Multicultural Cooperation to collect and disseminate Hmong oral history. From the website:
Since 2004, a variety of partners have made it possible to develop the Hmong Voices Project, which brings together Hmong youth and elders to record oral histories and create digital stories documenting the history of the Secret War in Laos, the Thai refugee camps, immigration to the Central Valley, and integration into American life.
There are several episodes, only a few of which are available online at the moment. (I assume you can contact them to purchase hard copies of the video). I was able to view the DVD this fall and was impressed by scope the material. For example, one episode features an emotional interview with Gen. Vang Pao (hopefully to be included among the online videos soon.) In the meantime, you can view them at the CMC website, or find them via search at the Internet Archive. Episode 2 (embedded below) is a particularly effective narrative about the Secret War and its aftermath told in Hmong and English by people who experienced it firsthand:

Other episodes focus on the passage of California State Assembly Bill (AB) 78 (the impetus for the project) and individual oral histories of the Secret War. I am especially pleased to see the CMC take advantage of the Internet Archive for distribution of the videos, as opposed to YouTube (although, I notice that they also uploaded them to Google Video.) The Internet Archive is a non-profit, online library that allows for the free distribution of digital media without generating ad revenue for corporations. It supports embedding and multiple formats making it competitive with other online video services. (It's where I've placed my videos online--although, I've also tried out GV and YT). Of course, uploading to sites like Google Video and YouTube (which is now owned by Google) means more views and a wider audience--so perhaps is makes sense to utilize both: generating interest on the commercial sites and redirecting viewers to the non-commercial sources for the rest of the content. Both CMC and Hmong Voices are on MySpace, another great place way to reach a young and diverse audience (although it too is full of ads).

New developments on the Internet make digital distribution of rich media cheap and easy and it is exciting to see educators, researchers, filmmakers, artists, etc. take advantage of these new channels of communication. At the same time, we need to think hard about where our content goes and who benefits from it. Is free distribution worth supplying YouTube with free content and ad revenue? What is the security, dependability, and scalability of these resources? For instance, it appears that the Hmong Cultural Center has begun relying on YouTube alone for the online archiving and distribution of their excellent videos. Another problem with with resources is that they provide no standard way to organize the materials. There is no reference librarian to properly archive the content, and it's up to the users to provide meaningful organization (something lacking from the Hmong voices videos on the Internet Archive). These are issues that will hopefully correct themselves (e.g. social taxonomies) as people become more familiar with new Web interfaces and applications, but they should be addressed upfront in any planning for future projects.

In the meantime, here are some good old fashioned non-ad-supported collections of Hmong oral history online: