Using objects to catalyze memory and narrative

Professor Francesco Spagnolo studies cultural heritage, a topic area that might seem situated squarely in the distant past — but that’s not how he sees it. “While there is a lot of concern among people about our cultural artifacts going digital; I’m interested in how in how cultural heritage includes both the digital and the tangible: these two dimensions exist in a loop, they are not separate from one.” As the curator for the The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California Berkeley, and a professor at the University, he is uniquely positioned to explore this relationship.

In Fall 2016, Professor Spagnolo taught a course called “Mapping Diasporas” that focused on the role of digital humanities in documenting and mapping culture in motion. As part of the class, he collaborated with Citizen Film. Together, they invited five refugees to meet with the students, and each were asked to bring with them one or more “memory objects” – tangible objects that spoke to them about home, culture, identity, or location. Several of the refugees had recently relocated to the Bay Area from Afghanistan, Syria, and Uganda, and presented their stories to the class. As part of an “un-final” project for the class, students conducted audio interviews with the refugees. Those interviews, and photos of those memory objects, are now being turned into a digital mapping project — and Pop Up Archive is helping.

Audio from the interviews is being transcribed using Pop Up Archive. Students go through the transcripts and use the interactive editor to correct any imperfections and assign and identify speakers. The machine-generated transcripts are critical to the overall efficiency of the project, which, based on student interest, is continuing past the end of the Semester at UC Berkeley. Professor Spagnolo and his students plan to finalize the interview transcripts, make all the files public, and then digitally document the memory objects, eventually combining all of these elements into an online map that the public can interact with in order to follow the journeys of the refugees.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Pop Up Archive since the beginning, and I continue to be a fan. It’s very collaborative and intuitive, and a completely natural platform to use to work with students and to collaborate on an oral history project like this one.” Images, texts, and audio will be interwoven in a map that will hopefully convey the immediacy of the refugee experience, and the importance of cultural heritage in maintaining one’s identity in displacement. “This is of extreme relevance today, when one seventh of the world’s population is estimated to be displaced.”Citizen Film, a documentary group, is also working on a short pilot documentary based on one of the narratives. Together, they presented a program about their work at the East Bay JCC on June 22.

Image: Ward Shelly’s Mapping the Jewish Diaspora

A Pop Up Archive Guide for KCRW’s 2017 #RadioRace contestants!

On the weekend of August 19-20, our pals at KCRW’s Independent Producer Project are hosting their fourth annual Radio Race—a chance for pro and hobbyist sound collectors to test their chops against the clock and produce a nonfiction radio story within 24 hours. 

To help radio racers get their stories in the can, Pop Up Archive is offering free audio transcriptions for participants. Pop Up Archives’ transcriptions save participants valuable production time so they can quickly zero on their best content and, with the help of our new Adobe Audition plug-in, easily edit and stitch clips together. Continue reading

A history of nuclear energy in the United States

In August 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt with some observations and recommendations about atomic weapons, including this chilling line: “A single bomb of this type carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.” Today, we share three pieces looking at the dangers, applications, and security questions surrounding this invention.

Image: Lennart Tange (Flickr)

The dangers of nuclear power Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Myron M. Cherry is a lawyer who argued against the licensing of several nuclear power plants. He successfully slowed their development in the 1970s by “waging a war of attrition on the nuclear industry,” turning the construction of a new reactor into a public and political liability. In 1975, he was interviewed by Studs Terkel. Listen.

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act into law on August 1, 1946. Image: Wikimedia

Open secrets: National security and the first amendement
— Pacific Radio Archives

In 1983, as part of the  bill of rights education project producer John Reiger undertook an examination of the legal, historical, and practical contexts of technology for nationalistic purposes — including the Atomic Energy Act. Listen.

SS Kentuckian in the Panama Canal. Image: Wikimedia

The Nuclear Canal — KQED Science

“Geographical engineering” with atomic explosives almost became a reality more than half a century ago, when scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore Lab wanted to expand the Panama Canal to allow larger ships through. “Project Ploughshare,” as this effort was known, never happened (and thank goodness). Listen.

See you in the archives,

The Pop Up Archive Team

Optimizely gathers user insights through interviews —  and turns it into action

Speaking to users to better understand customer needs and to conduct usability testing are both key parts of successful product development. Optimizely proactively engages their audience in their design workflow, leveraging insights through customer interviews, and Pop Up Archive is a key tool in their effort.

Jeff Zych is Head of Design at Optimizely, a tool for personalizing digital experiences. In that role, he runs a team of product designers, researchers, and user interface engineers whose jobs are to constantly develop and improve the company’s products.

As part of this effort, Optimizely regularly does research interviews with customers where they might share a prototype or talk about how an existing product is being used. Each Optimizely designer has a couple of projects in flight at any given time — depending on the cycle of the project, they might be conducting interviews to better understand customer needs or do usability testing, both key parts of product development.

They conduct around 12 interviews a month, all of which are recorded, and needed a way to quickly review the contents of those conversations to find insights and synthesize key takeaways. In search of an automated solution, they turned to Pop Up Archive. The interviews, which are one-on-one and usually last 45 minutes to an hour, usually take place over the phone and often include a video screen sharing component.

After an interview is recorded, it’s usually uploaded to Pop Up Archive within a day or two. Once the transcript is complete, it’s exported and edited (although not to the point of absolute accuracy) in a word processor. Often the text will be used to create an affinity diagram, where the raw text (such as key points or sentences) from across a number of interviews are clustered into themes to understand the overarching themes. Sometimes transcripts get shared with project managers or engineers, but often the raw research gets turned into a presentation that transforms the findings into actionable insights.

Before using Pop Up Archive, Optimizely gathered customer insights in different ways: sometimes someone would lead an interview and someone else would take notes, sometimes the interviewer would both conduct the conversation and take notes, and sometimes an interview would be hand transcribed after the fact. All of these solutions were a bit chaotic, often less precise, and time-consuming. Using Pop Up means they don’t need to worry about note-taking and can just focus on the customer. Two features of the software that they particularly value are the automatic speaker detection and the timestamps. “Other transcription services don’t split the speakers, but that’s important for us because of the interview format,” said Jeff. In the case of the timestamps, they’ll sync those back to the video if they know someone said something interesting, but can’t remember exactly what.

Turnaround time is really important for Optimizely’s needs since they’re often iterating quickly. “Once we’ve used the interviews to guide product and design decisions, we don’t revisit them all that often.

What does “independence” really mean?

A “lost boy” votes for independence KALW Crosscurrents

In 2011, San Jose resident Bol Deng Bol, from southern Sudan, traveled 12 hours by car to cast his vote in the Sudan referendum in Arizona. Bol is one of the so-called “Sudan Lost Boys,” who fled the country and walked hundreds of miles through jungles to a refugee camp. Bol eventually became a program manager at Hope with Sudan, a San Jose non-profit, to help his country. Listen.

July 4th, 1970 Pacifica Radio Archives

The cultural revolutions of the 1960s changed the discourse surrounding freedom and independence. Archival audio from a July 4, 1970 celebration in Washington, D.C. captures differing views on patriotism and the American legacy following the Civil Rights movement, anti-war efforts, the Stonewall Riots, second-wave feminism, and the rise of Black Power. Listen.

Can a free people survive? Illinois Public Media

December 7, 1787 is a lesser known date than July 4, 1776, but it was a fateful month in our history as a nation. Delaware was the first state to ratify the charter of our liberties, the Constitution of the United States of America. 154 four years later, to a day, this nation was faced with the question of whether a free people living under the guarantees of that Constitution and protected by its Bill of Rights could survive. Listen.

Image: Joe PennistonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Behind the scenes of “America’s attic”

When you hear the words “Smithsonian Institution,” you might think of a hallowed yet fusty single museum in Washington, D.C. But the Smithsonian is much broader and deeper than that — in addition to its 19 museums  visited by millions every year, it encompasses 9 research centers and the national zoo spread across multiple states and countries where active research is happening. Justin O’Neill, the producer of the Smithsonian’s podcast Sidedoor, is trying to bring the many rich aspects of the Smithsonian to life and to share them with the broader public, and Pop Up Archive is a critical tool in his workflow. Continue reading

Experiences of World War II, 73 years later

This June marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, “the largest seaborne invasion in history,” that initiated the liberation of Europe from the Nazis and supported an Allied victory along the Western Front. Today, pieces from the archives that examine World War II through the experiences of three different groups of citizens.

Veterans remember  Illinois Public Media

University of Illinois professor Bob Espeseth undertook a huge project to gather oral histories from World War II veterans before they were lost. In this piece, he interviews an 87-year-old veteran named Ed Gordon about his experience as a soldier in the war. (You can find all of Espeseth’s recordings in the Early American Museum in Mahomet, IL.) Listen.

Japanese in California — Pacifica Radio Archives

Not all World War II atrocities took place overseas — in the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Japanese American to be forcibly relocated and incarcerated in camps. All told, between 110,000 and 120,000 were affected, 62 percent of whom were U.S. citizens. This audio piece documents the experience with personal interviews of those who were interned. Listen.

The attack on Pearl Harbor through the eyes of students — KALW Crosscurrents

The attack on Pearl Harbor represented a major turning point for college students. Worried about final exams one day, many were enlisting and joining the army just a few days later. Sam Redman, cultural historian with UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office spoke about the effect this had: “For these young men and woman, it really was a major turning point in their lives. Do they stay in school? Do they continue their studies?” Hear firsthand how they felt — and what they did. Listen.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Crunch time: crafting audio news features efficiently

“No one gets into reporting because they like transcribing. …Overall [Pop Up Archive] is very accurate. I’ve seen it improve a lot in the time I’ve been using it and it’s helping us hugely in our day to day management and production of stories.”
—Audrey Dilling, KALW Crosscurrents

Audrey Dilling has been a reporter and producer for “Crosscurrents,” a daily news magazine at KALW in San Francisco. She has primarily produced features about water, reporting stories that are six to eight minutes long. That may not sound like a lot — until you realize that each feature is composed of at least three interviews, plus ambient sound, and that the raw tape for each interview prior to editing can run from twenty to forty minutes long. To help her use time efficiently and streamline the production process, Audrey uses Pop Up Archive to transcribe and organize tape. Continue reading

Three stories of what it is to be a mother

Dorothy Canfield Fisher said, “A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” This Mother’s Day, listen to three stories from our archives about the rich, complicated, one-of-a-kind bond that exists between mothers and their children.


Alfreda Duster, daughter of Ida B. Wells Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Ida B. Wells is a giant in American history. An African-American woman who was born a slave in Mississippi in 1862, she went on to become a journalist, editor, feminist and early leader in the civil rights movement. Her work has been honored in journalistic awards, a museum, a society for investigative reporting by journalists of color, and even a postage stamp. In 1971 her daughter, Alfreda Duster, spoke about the side of her only a daughter would know. Listen. Continue reading

Introducing the new and improved

In 2014, our co-founders — Anne Wootton and Bailey Smith — were very, very busy.

Every day they were commuting from Oakland, CA to 500 Startups’ Mountain View accelerator  as they developed Pop Up Archive, a business then in its infancy. They talked about developing a product that was like Google for all types of audio. Then the podcast “Serial” was released. Continue reading