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Arizona State Museum works to digitize Native American oral histories

Native American oral history tape
Posted at 6:18 AM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 10:32:13-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — With the help of a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Arizona State Museum is working to digitize tapes from 50 years ago.

There are over 600 interviews with members of the Native American communities around Southern Arizona. The interviews cover a wide range of topics about what life was like.

"These recordings are going to talk about native species that might no longer exist, fish that used to live in the rivers that are no longer there," Molly Stothert-Maurer, Head of Archives at Arizona State Museum said. "It's going to talk about how to find water in the desert and the struggles you had living in Arizona."

The hope is that bringing these tapes into the digital era will allow for greater research potential.

"The original project paid for the creation," Stothert-Maurer said. "It didn't fund any of the work that audio visual materials need over the course of 50 years."

The tapes will be digitized Ping Pong Media, a Tucson-based company.

Once this happens, Stothert-Maurer says the goal is to collaborate with the Native American communities.

"The digitization itself is fairly straightforward. What is more difficult is the process of entering into collaborations with communities like translation," Stothert-Maurer said. "Many of our recordings are not in English and that's what makes them so valuable."

Right now, the tapes are all private, but the museum hopes to be able to publish some of them for research with collaboration with the Native American communities.

Stothert-Maurer says that while research is a plus, it is not her end goal.

"My greatest hope is that the children or grandchildren of participants are reunited with a recording where they got to hear thier loved one from 50 years in the past," Stothert-Maurer said.