Sarah Schulman and I started the ACT UP Oral History Project in 2002 for two primary reasons. The first was that the work of thousands of AIDS activist who forced the U.S. government to deal with the AIDS crisis had largely been forgotten. We did not want to memorialize that effort, but to place it in the middle of mainstream U.S. history where it rightfully belongs. The second was to encourage further grassroots political activity by revealing how ACT UP created change, allowing it to serve as a model for political action.
In order to accomplish these goals we knew that we had to make the interviews from the Oral History Project as broadly accessible as possible. The first step in this process was to make complete transcripts and video clips from the interviews available for free from the website www.actuporalhistory.org.
A further step was the making of United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. The film made extensive use of the ACT UP Oral History Project interviews and brought renewed attention to ACT UP and made the Project known to thousands of people around the world. http://www.unitedinanger.com/festival-screenings-united-in-anger/
Transcripts are extremely useful for people writing about ACT UP. They also helped immeasurably in editing the film because searching on words made finding appropriate clips much easier. However, from the very beginning, our intention was to make all the videotaped interviews available in their entirety. When we first started that process, the only way to do that technologically was to make copies of the videotapes as widely available as possible. This led to deposits of copies in the New York Public Library, the San Francisco Public Library and the University of Michigan Library. Obviously, that made the interviews accessible only to people who had lived in the vicinity or could travel to those libraries.
In 2010, the Harvard College Library acquired the ACT UP Oral History Project, with the stated intention of putting all the interviews on the web in their entirety. Of course, there are still many technological obstacles to putting the now 171 interviews (over 350 hours) on the web. The four interviews on this website represent the next step in fulfilling that intention.
Using OHMS, it is now possible to read the transcript while watching the video. You can also search on specific words and click to that part of the tape. Much still needs to be done in the area of indexing, but this is a great leap forward in accessibility.
Thanks to Gregory Eow and the Harvard University Library for allowing this beta testing. And thanks to Guy Greenberg, Norma Juarez and Dan Cacace for doing the work to make this possible.