Archive for February, 2009

Interview process response – Tazewell Shepard

The thing I found most interesting while conducting an interview is how quickly the time passes when the interviewer and interviewee talk in sync with each other. Yesterday my group did our peer interviews and, to be honest, I went into it with dread. The first few minutes of the interviews always felt awkward; both parties had to get used to talking with each other. I found, however, that when either I as the interviewer or interviewee locked onto a topic of interest with interviewer/interviewee, the time flew by. I think our energies bounced off each other and we became the most interested in what the other had to say. I feel pretty sure that these moments produced the most interesting parts of the interviews. Yesterday, I realized that the interviews are not nearly as stressful as I expected: it just takes finding a mutually interesting subject and locking into a rhythm.

In-Class Interview Process

I have enjoyed the in-class interviews so far. The interviewees have been very open and interesting. The one thing that I have struggled with is the indexing. I don’t know how much needs to be written for each topic. Do I write “family story” or “her daughter worked in CW for as so-and-so’s child in the 70s…”? Looking around, I find that most people are much more brief in their descriptions. I have also been writing time stamps like “1:43” whereas others seem to be writing only times divisible by 5. I suppose that’s a picky little thing, but I want to know how it’s done in the wide-world of interviewing. I would really appreciate it if we went over these things in class after the interviews have finished.

Interview Process Response

I’m not quite sure if this is what you were looking for, Prof. Knight, but I just listened to the interview that I conducted with Andrew and I’m infuriated by the sound of my own voice. There’s so many ums and uhs and likes and even the tone and pitch seem awful to me. Is that what I sound like? I’m completely terrified now that I come off as an idiot to people.
Otherwise, it’s been pretty easy, but I’m sure that’s had something to do with the fact that we’ve been conducting interviews with our peers rather than adults/strangers/experts.
As far as the in class interviews have gone, I’ve found them to be rather enlightening. I thought that everyone who went today and last Thursday did a really great job. The questions were insightful and they seemed to form a good rapport with the interviewees. Also, Barbara Carson turned out to have a wealth of information about my specific project, so I can’t complain about that!

Transcription Response – Tazewell Shepard

I actually found the assignment easier than I expected. At first, I had a little trouble understanding Ericka Juarez beneath her accent, but I quickly grew used to it. I have never really done an assignment like this before, so without any prior knowledge of proper annotation, I choose to use commas to reflect pauses, brackets for laughter or other noises, and spelled filler words phonetically. I found the interview style interesting because in retrospect there seemed to several lost opportunities to ask follow up questions. The interviewer also seemed insensitive to Hispanics in general: she more or less said California is overflowing with immigrants. This interview made me realize the need to be conscientious to the interviewee and remember that while I may ask the questions, they control the interview.

Transcription Reflection

It was interesting transcribing an interview with someone with a Latin American accent. There were times that Ericka Juarez mispronounced something or spoke in broken phrases. I chose to include all of this in order to best represent her perspective. I included a few “ums” as well as a few times when Juarez laughed. I felt that it was especially important to record her laughing when she described being treated as a tourist regarding health care. It conveys much about her attitude towards the reality of being an immigrant in Williamsburg. I also used dot dot dots (…….) to convey pauses or trailed-off sentences, or sentences with inherent questions in the tone.  For some of the interview, however, Juarez slurred or breezed through words that I was unable to understand — I just put question marks where I was unable to follow her wording.

Index Problem

Maybe this isn’t something I need to post about…but I couldn’t index because for some reason the thing that Blackboard downloaded the interview on didn’t have a timer and I don’t have a laptop right now, so I wasn’t able to download the other software. Does anyone have any ideas how I can fix this? I’ll get on it right away.

Ericka Juarez: Transcription Reflection

I have done limited transcription before, but this was not at all very difficult. I think I was lucky that the interviewer didn’t speak very quickly.  To be honest, I really enjoyed the transcribing; it’s so precise and concrete.   It’s nice to be able to feel like you captured a moment and have recorded something that has happened. Important or not, it happened.   I decided to represent as much as I possibly could of the interview, which means I included pauses (represented by dashes and ellipses depending on the type of pause),  um/uh/likes, and I even tried (though to how much success I do not know) to represent when the interviewer interrupted the interviewee.  However, I feel like the way I transcribed may have been influenced by my feelings about the interviewer (critical).  The parts that I chose to represent, such as the slight laughter of the interviewee when the interviewer revealed herself to be a little out of touch culturally. For example, when the interviewer asks her about politics Ericka, the interviewee talks about a new president and the changes he has made.  Then Britney, the interviewer asks her in a way you might ask someone to name the street she lived on as a child, “Do you remember his name?” Ericka laughs a little and recites the full name of El Salvador’s current president. I read that as, “of course I know my president, who do you think I am?”

As we have said in previous class discussions, former classmates aren’t here to defend themselves, but I was really dismayed by Britney’s questions.  I am not sure what the object of her interview was, though I assume that it had something to do with gaining an understanding of Ericka’s  experience immigrating to Williamsburg.  I felt like the questions that Britney asked were a) not very useful in eliciting much information on the topic and b) some bordered on extreme cultural ignorance and insensitivity.  At one point when Ericka tells Britney she is from a big city, “like New York,” she explains.  Britney seems confused and says that she had only imagined El Salvador to be jungle.  Ericka takes this in stride, but a question like that does not bode well for establishing an even playing field for interviewer and interviewee.

The most significant things in the process have been a) listening to someone else’s interviewing style and learning from it and b) realizing that the transcriber’s attitudes have an impact on how materials are transcribed.  Perhaps because of my extensive experience with immigrants the questions that Britney asked seemed facile to me, but they wouldn’t to a good number of others.  I may have recorded something, but perhaps, not really “the way it happened.”

Transcription Excercise

I have transcribed a lot of film in the past; however, for each of those transcriptions I relied on only short descriptions of visual images and assessments of their quality.  I have also transcribed film interviews, but for those I also mainly wrote down general ideas expressed during certain parts of  the interviews, not dialogue word for word unless it was explicitly necessary for some reason.  Because of my “transcription” work in the past, I thought this process would be much easier than it actually was.  When working with film, my main purpose in transcribing the tapes was to decide what to import into the computer to use during editing.  In that case, general descriptions and assessments of film and audio quality were all I really needed and I was pretty unprepared for this exact transcription of a conversation and the amount of time it would take to complete.

This transcription process definitely involves a lot more work and of detail.  It was really strange listening to both the interviewer and interviewee pause and add words like “um” and “ah” that I sort of filter out during an everyday conversation.  I chose to include most of these words because they represent moments when either interviewer or subject took a moment to think about how they were going to articulate their next thought.  When we when to the archives at Swem, I noticed that there were a few “ums” in the transcriptions of the interviews, but probably not as many as I have added.  The conversation between Laura and Sharon Scruggs is a lot more disjointed on paper, and it definitely seemed to flow much more naturally while I was just listening for ideas, names of places, etc. the first time I listened to the file (while indexing).  There were some moments when either Laura or Sharon muttered or spoke too quickly and I could not understand those words, so I chose to represent those moments as “[unknown]” to indicate that there was some word there, but that it is unintelligible.

In general, I think Laura’s questions were pretty good; however, I think she could have asked Sharon to elaborate on the blind couple that stayed at the Inn or the children she knew with disabilities.  Granted, I only heard the first eleven minutes of the interview so she may have gone on to elaborate on these topics; however, I think it would have been more appropriate to ask about them when Sharon brought them up initially.  Listening to the interview has also reaffirmed something I learned when doing film interviews: it’s important for the subject to know that you’re engaged in the topic; however, it interferes with the audio of the interview if you express your interest verbally.  There were many times that Laura would say, “right” or “ok” while Sharon was talking about something particularly interesting and that disrupts the flow of what Sharon is saying and it is forever recorded in the audio of the interview.  Oral histories definitely seem more conversational than official interviews for radio, film, or anything else; however, I thought Laura’s interjections were kind of jarring when she occasionally cut Sharon off.

            This practice exercise was definitely a good introduction to audio transcription and I feel much more prepared for the amount of time and detail involved in the process when I actually sit down to transcribe interviews that I have conducted. 


Despite all the warnings, I came into this expecting it to be a piece of cake. In fact, it was treacherous work, and it took much longer than I expected. I overestimated my short-term memory capacity. I found myself stopping, more frequently than I expected, to catch up or to replay a clip. So, my big lesson learned was that transcribing interviews is more difficult than it seems.
There were some interesting decisions I had to make, though. If I were simply listening to this interview without having to transcribe it, my reaction would have been that Sharon Scruggs is a very well-spoken woman. She actually is quite well-spoken, but her manner of speech can not be transferred to written word. She used “um” and “you know” very often. I decided that these were fairly insignificant hesitations and I omitted them from my transcription. I began by including them, since I wanted the transcription to be as accurate as possible. After reviewing the first page of the transcription, though, it became apparent that so many “um” and “You knows” would be incredibly distracting to anyone reading the interview. I ended up including only a few of these verbal hesitations, when I felt they represented unsureness, or deep thought.
Punctuating the transcription was equally puzzling. It became clear to me, through this exercise, that people do not typically speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences. There are many sentences in the transcription that run on, using commas where there were pauses in the speech. I felt that adding periods or other phrase-ending punctuation to attempt to create more finite, well-structured sentences would only backfire on me. I feel that the interview would be a tough read had my opinion been different.
I re-listened to the interview and read along once I finished. I found several mistakes this way. It was a very effective method of proofreading. Overall, this was a really interesting and surprising assignment. I will no longer take the process of transcribing so lightly.

Transcription Reflection – Laura McCann

I found translating the spoken word into something that is completely coherent on paper a lot more difficult that I imagined. Many of my sentences were long paragraphs with a million incomplete thoughts and repeated words. At first, I played the whole interview on 60% speed and trying to transcribe the words in the interview exactly as I heard them (eliminating only ‘ums’ and not giving much attention to pauses), but when I read through what I had written I it was so incoherent to read that I spent another ten or fifteen minutes cleaning up what I had written into something that could make sense to a reader. The rest of the day I was very conscious of the way I spoke and how it would translate to the written word. I also felt like so much of the interviewee’s voice was lost when I read through the transcription I had written. The mental image I had of the interviewee when I listened to the interview was much different than the mental image I had reading through my transcription. Perhaps this is because of my lack of knowledge about how to handle a transcription, but also it could be just a problem with turning the spoken word into the written word.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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