Digitizing oral histories to help honor the diversity of America's servicewomen

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Read how Dorian Bell and his team digitized oral histories and processed metadata outside of the standard format for the Military Women's Memorial on behalf of a new 2022 traveling exhibition entitled, “The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen.”

Dorian Bell
Manager of Studio Operations | Iron Mountain Media & Archive Services
February 15, 20227 mins
Military Women's Memorial
“The history of minority women in the military is often untold and underrepresented,” said Britta Granrud, Director of Collections and Curator for the Military Women’s Memorial. “Diversity is our strength and women of color have been, and continue to play, integral roles in our nation’s military and beyond.”

Because of the Memorial’s philanthropic grant partnership with our company through the Living Legacy Initiative, our Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services team was brought in to lend our expertise to digitize oral histories in legacy formats and to process their metadata.  During our introductory calls, Britta explained the results of our work would become the basis of their new 2022 traveling exhibition entitled, “The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen.”  We also learned that the exhibition - which is now open - would bring attention to the trials and triumphs of African-American servicewomen, in particular. 
I felt proud to project manage this project on behalf of the Memorial, which initially started as a request for a proof of concept for digitizing at risk media containing servicewomen oral histories and gathering metadata for their collection. The POC helped the Memorial team identify and add essential descriptive fields outside of the standard format and define deliverables for the file package delivery. 
For example, concerning the original proof of concept, the Memorial wanted us to take all their items and extract metadata from the physical elements, as well as capture images of their content, in our Moonachie Studio.
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We worked with the Memorial’s collections manager Amy Poe on the needed specifications. This original data entry request then evolved into replacing our standard cms fields to military specific terms (service branch, rank, etc). This took some significant tweaking on our end but our data entry team worked to modify and provide what they needed.  

Shortly after the metadata was completed, the Memorial then asked us to migrate the items; they also needed guidance and advice on which archival format to use. My colleague Nick Narciso, who is in product management, guided Amy and the team of what file packages would be most appropriate. Once the Museum approved, the team encoded to Nick’s specs.

After the encoding of the audio/video elements, our studio specialist and veteran, Byron Sanders, organized each piece of media by the service member and saved them to a hard drive to be shipped to them. 

So many of our Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services team’s hands touched, extracted, organized and finessed what became shareable oral histories from twenty-one servicewomen of color. Our work helped migrate and organize data which will now bring attention to the sacrifices and contributions of the diverse individuals who paved the way to allow for women of all backgrounds to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. One of my favorite snippets was learning about Private First Class Sarah Keys, who stood up to discrimination in 1952 by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger three years before Rosa Parks’ iconic act.  I also enjoyed briefly learning about Vernice Armour who was the first African American female combat pilot. 

My team and I are honored we could play a small part in the Military Women’s Memorial’s Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen. The mobile exhibition recently opened in Virginia and will travel to various locations across the United States as part of their AppreSHEation Tour.  I encourage you to visit if it travels to your area.  

Everyday all of us at Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services play a special role in preserving our shared cultural history in music, film, sports or broadcast and now we can add that we also support veteran voices with our support of the Military Women’s Memorial. Our team helped ensure these servicewomen and their contributions are cemented in history and archived for others to learn from and experience.

With appreciation to our other team members who contributed on this project including: James Laughlin, Brian McMillan and Alex Nunez (Data Entry); Byron Sanders (Data Manager); and Domenica Giorgio (Project Manager).