Making the Past Speak

The past, of course, isn’t even past, and in my case, it’s often the present.

One of the problems with teaching history to undergraduates is helping them understand primary sources, particularly documents written awhile ago. For this reason, I have recorded my own voice reading primary sources, at least those written by American women, since that is my voice. I have also asked friends occasionally to record them for me. But it’s difficult to impose on friends for things like documents that should be read by British males, and frankly not everyone can do a good reading.

With all the technologies out there, this should be easier, and I shouldn’t need to impose on anyone.

Here is my next effort, following the resounding response to my Plotagon Gilgamesh.

First, I tried GoAnimate. I’ve been searching for British male text-to-speech, and here it was! But the characters aren’t exactly what I’m looking for, even though I can upload a background. It came out like this:

Then, I went to Blabberize, so I could use an image of Edmund Burke himself instead of an anime teen. But Blabberize wants you to do the speaking, and although I can’t be sure, I’m pretty convinced that I sound nothing whatsoever like Edmund Burke.

So using Snapz Pro X, I recorded the audio from the GoAnimate. Then I converted it to mp3 in Audacity, and uploaded it to Blabberize. Here’s the result:

Still working on it…

Addendum! My online colleague Keith Brennan has gently reminded me that Burke was Irish, not British, and despite my error Keith has offered to record a document. I also discovered that according to the Economist Burke would have retained his Irish accent. This oversight is particularly embarrassing since I’m a big fan of the scene in The Man Who Never Was, where the Scottish father of the body (which the military wants to use as a ruse against the Nazis) is assumed to be doing it “for England” and the father replies something abou the English always saying England when they mean Britain. Here that error is even bigger!

5 thoughts on “Making the Past Speak

  1. Your recent work in giving voice to historical text resonates for me. Unfortunately, I’m not able to listen to Mr. Burke at work or on my iDevice at the moment – will have to wait until I get home this evening.

    One suggestion would be to also include a link to the mp3 file if you have some place to store it. Certainly the iDevices would be able to play the mp3 as a clickable link.

    Would you mind if I were to feature what you’re doing here on an upcoming BluePhase?

    And if you ever need a North American male voice for a reading, feel free to hit up your new old radio friend: scottlo.


    1. Oh, yes, thanks! – that Flash/iWhatever incompatibility rears its ugly head again. I suppose I could screen record these and upload to YouTube or something.

      Sure, feature away – let me know if you need anything from me. 🙂


      1. I was finally able to watch the Gilgamesh and Burke animations you made. I find myself captivated by this experiment you are sharing and feel there must be all sorts of imaginative possibilities.

        I’ve just spent the past hour trying to put together a GoAnimate bit to along with the Dr. Nakatsu story arc on the BluePhase show. Unfortunately, the speaker’s mouth only moved in one of the four scenes of the 28 second clip. Clearly, I don’t know what i’m doing here.

        I also downloaded the 1GB Plotagon application which you used to make the Gilgamesh scene. I haven’t yet installed it as I’m trying to pull things together for today’s BluePhase. But I hope to be able play with it in the days ahead.

        Wonder if you’d be able to join me on Skype on an upcoming Friday morning (your time) to discuss on #ds106radio some of the implications of these experiments.

        Once again, thanks for the inspiration.


        1. Ah yes, GoAnimate. It’s hard to use some of these “freemium” things – as sson as I see the “plans and pricing” link I know it isn’t going to be quite what I need!

          Yes, I’d love talking with you on radio ds106, always keeping in mind that I have no idea what I’m doing here! Not available the 8th, but other Friday mornings are fine. 🙂


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