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Oral history can be an effective way to add to museum exhibitions. The use of a few short (no more than 5 minutes), well chosen oral history extracts can make your objects come to life. However technical and security problems sometimes seem to pose insurmountable problems in actually being able to let people hear the sound. Below you will find some possible solutions that will enable you to add an oral history component to your museum.

[Transcriptions] [Speakers] [Headphones and handsets] [Computers and more complex solutions]


Even if you lack any way of playing sound to visitors to your museum you can still transcribe oral history recordings and include text versions in conventional exhibitions.

CD/Tape Player and Speakers

If you can overcome the security problems of having an expensive and portable piece of equipment in your exhibition you can use a domestic CD Player and speakers to play oral history extracts. Many museums build the equipment into some kind of larger installation. A wooden box that fits tightly around the equipment and can be screwed to the floor is fairly easy to construct and will probably prevent the casual thief running off with your equipment. If you want to consider this possibility we would suggest that you buy a decent quality CD player and amp (see our pages on non-portable equipment). You will also need a good pair of speakers to ensure that the audio is clear across the room you are planning to play it in. We suggest that you measure the room and talk to your hi-fi retailer about the size of amp and speakers that you need to fill the room.

The problem with using speakers to play your audio is that it can be very intrusive. It will work best in a small room where visitors are not asked to read any interpretation. If you try to place audio in a section of a larger gallery you are likely to find that the sound bleeds accross to the rest of the exhibits in the gallery. We would suggest that you edit a short oral history extract (see using sound editing software) and put it on repeat so that people standing in the room for a relatively short time will hear all of the extract.

CD/Tape Player and Headphones/Handsets

Constructing a listening post using a well secured walkman or CD walkman like the one shown in the picture to the right with some sturdy headphone offers another good option. Again it is important to secure the CD player in some way. Bristol Museums used a protective perspex mount, moulded by the museum's technicians, on an individual carrell type study table bought for £50 from a schools supply catalogue to create a listen station. Cheap headphones should be available from most high street audio and electrical retailers. Warwickshire Museum Service advised the East Midlands Oral History Archive that they successfully used a Sony WM-EX615 conventional walkman (aprox £30) because it was easy to use and promised "unbreakable" buttons. This model also has a rechargable battery that lasts up to 60 hours. The museum found that they only needed to recharge it once a week. Warwickshire Museum Service also used Philips Clarity XL stereo headphones (aprox £60 for 2 sets) which were chosen for their ability to pick up range of sound and for their self-adjusting headband which was easy for both children and adults to use. They found this model to be generally sturdy and attractive because of its washable ear-cushions.

Paul Sheldon of Nottingham Brewerhouse Museum sells units made from a CD walkman and a telephone handset for around £200. With these units visitors just have to pick up a handset to hear an extract. The extract will stop when the handset is put down. Contact Paul Sheldon on 0115 915 3608 or paul@psheldon.fsbusiness.co.uk for further information.

Computers, Kiosks and Outsourcing

Computers clearly offer another opportunity to display audio material in a gallery setting. Using widely disseminated technologies (such as those associated with the web) it is possible to construct multi-media installations. If you can overcome the security issues of having a computer on display it should be possible to use an ordinary personal computer to host your installation. However, if you work in a busy museum or one which is particularly targeted at younger people you may find that mice and keyboards are not robust enough. In this case you might want to consider using a touch-screen, track-ball or even some kind of kiosk installation.

The following companies sell these kinds of products and offer more complex listening post installations. We have not worked directly with any of these companies and so they should not be considered to be approved or recommended by the East Midlands Oral History Archive. We would like to hear from any other companies that offer similar services.


Warwickshire Museum display boards

Warwickshire Museum Service used oral history transcriptions on display boards in a recent exhibition.

Liste ning post

Warwickshire Museum Service constructed a listening post using a walkman and a sturdy pair of headphones.

Last updated: 21/10/2008
East Midland Oral History Archive Web maintainer
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.

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