– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Thing 13

Thing 13 of 23 Things for Research is Finding presentations and podcasts. Well, the world of podcast lectures etc etc is huge and growing. It is exciting and full of all sorts of great content. It is also full of worthless rubbish – lots of it. And of course it’s amorphous, badly organised, hard to navigate… that is, tremendously time-wasting. I needed to search in a very focussed way, and I deliberately chose two subjects I thought a) would lend themselves well to this kind of presentation and b) would probably be poorly represented in the world of online presentations and podcasts, at least so far: medieval manuscript studies and professional issues for archivists. At least investigating available sources for both of these is as job-specific and non-time-wasting as possible!

1) Podcasts – audio only, usually can be streamed or downloaded

a) University of Oxford podcasts (I was steering clear of download-requiring things, so used http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk rather than iTunes):

  • a search for ‘manuscript‘ turned up a lovely series by Bodleian curators of the Crossing Borders exhibition (2010), about  how Jews, Christians and Muslims have contributed to the development of the book, plus Bodley’s Librarian (and Balliol Fellow) Dr Sarah Thomas in conversation with Dr Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville, discussing the ‘infinitely expanding universe of memory’ and collections in the digital age.
  • ‘Medieval’ yielded many more but a still browsable number of results, including several lecture series on more or less curriculum topics from Old English literature to Tolkien (ok not a huge hop!) to medieval Muslim madness and medicine. There was a good range of types of talk: lectures, panel discussions, interviews, audio tours and readings.
  • ‘Archive’ thanks to its IT connotations brought up a rather mixed bag, but I picked out a good series by the WW1 Poetry Archive and one about digital preservation of seismographic data!
  • Archives’ introduced me to CLAROS and issues of doing archival research in former Soviet states
  • ‘Archivist’: no results!

b) podcast.com: null points immediately for not having a search function! can this be true? and its site map doesn’t work. And one seems to be able to look at only the first half dozen podcasts it presents you on whichever very broad category, within which there do not seem to be any subdivisions. Gave up, bewildered! useless as far as I could tell… moving swiftly on.

c) BBC podcasts – gets a slap on the wrist for having a weird popup search/categories function (which made me go back and check for similar on podcast.com! not there) while the obvious search box at the top of the page trawls the whole of the BBC website(s). But once you realise the little green arrow is the key to everything, it’s organised and clear. So, searches: ‘Manuscript’, ‘archive’, ‘archives’, ‘medieval’, ‘middle ages’: also nil. I searched for ‘football’ just to make sure a) there were any at all and b) the search was working! Eventually I noticed that the search function was for podcast title, not content or descriptions. Sigh. So the only way to find anything relevant was to browse the ‘sub-genre’ categories. I looked at History. There were 26 series listed and no way to browse their contents. So much good listening and no way to get at only the individual podcasts you might want. The BBC is so rich – perhaps they find it difficult to organise all this material. Overall, BOO.

d) TED talks – hum, well, a good series of talks on  medieval manuscripts by the ever-interesting William Noel. I thought it might be better about archives, archivists and archival issues, but I got a smattering of information management and digital preservation and, horrors, the word archivism, which means nothing to me, and looks ugly. (Opinions on this blog are my own…) TED talks strike me as better for Tuning In to Talks about Things that will Make You a More Aware Citizen of the World. Which is good but doesn’t tell me anything about the subjects I was searching for. Surely somebody has done a TED talk about the records continuum…

So, I wonder whether podcast searches are better when they start off already focussed on a subject, such as the Oxford ones. Here are 2 other places I like to look:

good Google search results for ‘archivist podcast’:

  • goodness me, there is a 23 Things for Archivists! Woohoo, summer project! I might have known. In fact, why didn’t I know? It’s been around since summer 2011, and they keep adding Things – they’re up to 46! Well, I’ve started this, so I’ll finish. Nearly there.
  • interactivearchivist from the SAA
  • medievalarchives – a good example of what one independent interested person can do, for very little investment except time and effort

2) Presentations – note, I only searched the non-signed-in versions of all these sites. I have enough logins! And I’m not yet convinced of the usefulness of publishing slide presentations. Can other people just nick and use them? How transferable is most of this information? and if it’s for reading rather than re-presenting, is the presentation without the presenter an effective medium? There has to be a fine balance between complete information and crowded, over-wordy slides. Few get it right.

a) Slideshare: online powerpoints, more or less. Mostly, it seems, just the slides, not accompanying notes. Well, there are certainly lots of things for/about archivists! 3 I’m going to look at, with the idea that they might be useful for me, researchers or archives trainees:

b) Scribd: a ‘digital library’. I remember trying to use this in the days when it was a sort of open JSTOR-cum-Gutenberg that didn’t work. Hm. It is still kind of like that, except it works better. Published articles are available to read here. My interest is flagging! not a place for quick browsing, so I moved on. This kind of falls between the cracks. Might as well just use a search engine.

c) Note & Point – for good-looking Keynote & Powerpoint presentations. Search box at bottom of page. I always wonder, when web pages do that, what they are trying to get you to look at rather than the things you are looking for… ok, so no search results at all for archivist, medieval, manuscript or football. I gave up – what is this site for? It’s about presentation design ideas, not content. Whatever! Duly noted for whenever I eventually get around to making something.

d) Speaker Deck – more like Slideshare. Finally got a few decent hits with ‘digital humanities.’ OK, done with Presentations.

3) Youtube – research & presentation material. Well, I certainly haven’t searched Youtube for work before! Some channels to surf:

  • National Archives UK
  • British Museum
  • British Library
  • and a number of others, especially several in Oxford, that I’ve already linked to at right under Worth Watching.
  • lots of document handling tutorials (many of the better of which I’ve already collected, might need updating); try searching for ‘medieval manuscript’; and ideas about archives outreach and training videos to make one fine day… What about Vimeo?

This Thing was time-consuming. I think archives, archivists, archival researchers and archives professional theorists/thinkers/teachers have yet to move into the Presentations arena much. There is certainly potential for teaching presentations of all sorts. Are we behind? A little, probably.


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