Archive for February, 2010



Reflections on Transcript Practice

The transcript process went fairly smoothly and about as I had expected.  However, I did not realize how hard one of the interviewees would be to understand at certain points in the interview.  I felt that growing up near Williamsburg, visiting it often, and hearing stories of it from the past helped me to decipher what was being said in the interview at times.  The fact that he had an accent and did not always speak distinctly led to a little more frustration than I experienced with the indexing practice.  Although I did not always know if my categories were acceptable while indexing, at least I could get a general sense of what was going on during a certain part of the interview without having to know every single detail.  Of course, some of this may be the function of the recording quality equipment as well as the quality of the headphones I was using, which will never be avoided when transcribing.  Indexing, on the other hand, may be different, as it is always done in person during the interview.

Not having any guidelines on how to transcribe the interview gave me a sense of power in deciding what I thought was important to indicate.  I felt that I accurately recorded the facts and sense of the interactions between interviewers and interviewees to the best of my ability.  For example, since one of the interviewees had a rather strong accent, I decided to record his exact words whenever possible, but write them as the “correct” pronunciation.  An example would be if someone routinely dropped their g’s on the end of words in an interview, and the transcriber wrote them in the transcript.  I did this because I did not want to inaccurately represent what was said, especially with alternate pronunciations that do not have standard spellings.  I thought a little bit about the idea of representation with this issue.  Would the Bradshaws have wanted me to record things specific to their dialect?  Some people might be offended if they view the transcript as making them appear uneducated, whereas others would feel that it is necessary in order to represent them and their voices.

I had a little bit of trouble when recording other “un-words.”  For example, is it important to record when an interviewee clears his or her throat?  I was going to do so at one point, but realized that there was at least one instance where one of the interviewees did so before, and it was a while back in the interview.  I decided, based on the advice given in at least one of the articles I read for this class, that pauses were important to record.  However, I am wondering if long versus short pauses are significant.  I used a fairly un-scientific method of recording them as long or short.  Also, as being someone who laughs fairly often, I decided to record when people laughed.  In terms of punctuation, I put commas where pauses occurred in the speech, and not necessarily where they should go grammatically.  I was frustrated by the fact that I could not record intonation in the interviewees’ voices.

One thing that I noticed is that there weren’t as many questions asked as I had expected.  I guess this makes sense, however, as the point is to let the interviewee tell his or her story, rather than to let the interviewer tell his or her analysis of it.

Indexing and Transcribing

Indexing and transcribing is something fairly new to me, and I encountered a lot of issues along the way.  While indexing, I had trouble distinguishing what were main topics because I felt like the entire dialogue generally talked about the same issue, which was eating organically, mainly from local farmers.  Occasionally the interviewee went off on tangents he felt were relevant to the topic, and I didn’t know whether or not to classify these as major topics or not.  It was also hard to think of words to describe the major topics; I just felt like putting down ‘zoning’ was not enough information.  From this excerpt, I really was not sure what the project was focusing on.  It seemed like organic, local farming in James City County, but the interviewer also notes that she wants to talk about Mr. Geddy’s family life. 

Transcribing proved even more difficult.  I think I was expecting an interview with a question, and then an answer, but here, the interview consisted of long monologues by Mr. Geddy, and about two questions by the interviewer.  It was often very hard to decipher what Mr. Geddy was saying because he has a deep voice, with kind of a southern drawl.  While I did not make a major attempt to catch accent, I occasionally would write in a ‘y’all’ or ‘ta’ instead of ‘to’. I’d also attempt to leave of the ‘g’ in ‘ing’ words, because they were pronounced ‘-in’’.  A lot of his words were mumbled, sentences started by ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, and he spoke rather quickly during certain parts. When I could not understand him, I simply wrote ‘undistinguishable.’  I also had no idea how to transcribe when two individuals were talking at the same time, so I wrote ‘overlapping.’

The interviewer’s questions were brief, and she spoke clearly, but this does not mean the questions were clear.  Mr. Geddy even notes that he does not understand specifically what she is asking about in one question.  I also feel like she was a bit condescending, stating that a Mr. Bradshaw didn’t share the same views about truck farming, while Mr. Geddy stated he and Mr. Bradshaw were on the same page, and felt as thought he was misunderstood somewhere along the way.  It seemed to me the interviewer just listened as the interviewee talked.  She allowed him to get of on tangents in some parts, and I feel as though an interviewer needs to keep the person on the right track.  Tangents occur when an individual is allowed to give a big monologue. 

It also seemed that the questions she asked did not evoke answers she was looking for.  Mr. Geddy talks about his personal views on a lot of the issues, and does not present many facts.  I believe this could be because in the twelve minutes of dialogue, the interviewer spoke only about two times.  He does not address James City County specifically, and I believe this was the purpose of the interview? Again, I’m not too sure.

Transcription

The transcription process was an eye-opening experience.  I was surprised to discover just how difficult evaluating the audio file of an interview can be.  First off, the transcriber possesses a dizzying amount of agency; he can convert the spoken word into a seemingly limitless array of different mechanical and grammatical constructions and combinations.

Secondly, the audio file itself can be cryptic.  Depending upon the annunciation of the interviewer and interviewee, some words, phrases, or entire strings of phrases can become incomprehensible upon playback.  Obviously, the ability to slow down the recording is advantageous in situations such as these; nevertheless, I ran into one or two instances where i was forced to make my best guess at what was being mumbled into the microphone.  I took the liberty of using copious dashes and commas, in order to notate breaks ans pauses that I perceived in the audio.

I am excited to learn some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to transcription and dealing with oral history-making in general.  Recording oral histories can be a powerful thing, if done correctly, and I can only hope that my contribution to the process will be in no way limited by a lack of technical proficiency.

Mulling Over Some Potential Questions

Life History:

1.  What is the most dramatic change you’ve seen in Williamsburg during your residence here?  How has this personally affected you/your family?

2.  Do you feel at home in Williamsburg?  Do you feel that Williamsburg is where you “belong?”  Why or why not?

3.  If you could relive any year of your life, what year would that be?  Could you tell me a little bit about it?

Research:

1.  How did you become interested in string music?  How long have you been performing?

2.  What are some of the difficulties/perks with regards to performing in a musical group with your wife?

3.  In many ways, Williamsburg, like string music, is melding of the old with the new.  What about this town inspires you to continue to compose and perform?

Preliminary Interview Questions

What place do you consider to be your home? Is it the place you live now?

How would you describe your habits as a consumer of local “cultural” production from your home?

How has Williamsburg differed from other places you have lived in its cultural production?

How do you feel the economic climate has changed in Williamsburg in the past 30 years?

How do you feel the Williamsburg residents have been affected by the economic and real estate growth of recent years? Specifically their role as consumers?

How have Williamsburg restaurants adapted with this growth? How have they changed and how have they stayed the same?

Transcription Reactions

I assumed transcription would be time consuming, but I didn’t realize the challenges that you can face as a transcriber.  For one, not having a set guideline of what to transcribe forced me to make a lot of decisions about what I felt was pertinent or appropriate for the document.  I decided to try to include as much of the audio, the rhythm of the speakers voice, in the document that I could.  I included the ums, and ahs and a lot of the pauses with grammatically incorrect commas.  For unclear bits, I used ellipses or guessed at words that I was unsure about.  Also, the actually act of listening and rewriting someone’s words is a lot more difficult than I expected.  There were many instances that I would have to listen to a sentence multiple times, at different speeds, just to catch one word.  I was also surprised at the sheer amount that the interviewee spoke, as the interviewer ask relatively few questions and mostly allowed the interviewee to tell, longer, paragraph-form stories.  I did enjoy listening to the stories, and I felt that because I listened to it so closely, that I got a lot more out of the interview than I did the first time I listened to it.  Looking back at my indexing, I feel that the things I thought were major points while listening to it “live” were not necessarily the actual major points.  I feel more as though I wrote down the things that caught my attention the most, or things I expected him to elaborate on, rather than the topics on which he actually did elaborate.

Preliminary Interview Questions

Interview Questions- Life History:

1.  Where else have you lived besides Williamsburg? What would you consider  to be your “home base”?

2. What is your relationship with this place called Williamsburg? What brought you to Williamsburg and what has kept you in the area and involved in the community?  

3. What role has music played in your life and what influence has Williamsburg had on your  musical  interests or involvement?

Research-related Questions: (Barry Trott)

1. How would you describe the community of musicians in Williamsburg? Are you in contact with many other local artists or musicians?

2.  As a performing artist, what sort of unique opportunities (or setbacks) does Williamsburg offer? (What are your favorite music venues to perform at?)

3. Would you like to share anything about your experience being part of  the Friends of Appalachian Music (FoAM) at the College?

Transcription Reflection

Whew! Doing the transcription and indexing of part of an interview required a good deal of time and focused attention. It was particularly time consuming for me because I had difficulty deciphering some mumbled words, and I had to go back to listen to certain segments multiple times. This was good practice, though, and I can only imagine how long it would take to transcribe a whole interview; my segment was only 12 minutes and 35 seconds but took me around two hours to transcribe!

With no prior experience transcribing, I had to come up with a uniform way to handle certain issues that arose. For example, I was unsure whether to include every instance the interviewee said “uh”, which sometimes occurred multiple times in a row. I also needed to decide how to handle pauses in the speech or muffled parts I could not understand. Though I did not want to detract from the substantial content of the speaker, I wanted to remain true to what I heard. For some cases, this could just require making a note before the transcription about an accent or stutter or any special qualities of the interviewee’s speech. Also, the way in which the interviewee emphasized certain words seemed significant, so I decided to italicize a few words.

 I chose to indicate pauses by putting “…”; there are various reasons why a person might hesitate (they could be trying to remember a detail or they could be talking about a sensitive topic and so on…), but regardless, I think it is noteworthy. I chose to indicate any other action, i.e. (mumbles) or (chuckles), by putting the description in parentheses so as not to be confused with the subjects’ speech. I think it is important to include this information because it gives the interviewee and interviewer more of a “voice” on paper. Of course, something is always “lost in transcription”, but perhaps the inclusion of these extra descriptors helps the reader get a bit of a better sense of the interviewer and interviewee. When conducting research, if you have access to the transcription and the recording of the oral history collection, I would strongly recommend utilizing both sources! This is because, firstly, the analytical process of transcription is subjective and open to the interpretation of the transcriber; and, secondly, because it is more possible to understand other individuals and what things mean to them by hearing them speak, rather than merely reading a dialogue on paper.

Preliminary Interview Questions

Life History:

1. How would you characterize your relationship with William and Mary growing up and did you purposfully go to college away from Williamsburg?

2. When you returned from college, in what ways did you notice a change in Williamsburg, if any at all? Did you likes these changes?

3. Since your father was a William and Mary faculty, did you feel you were a part of the William and Mary community growing up? Do you feel like there is separation of community between Williamsburg natives, the college, and Colonial Williamsburg?

Informational:

1. What job positions did you hold in Colonial Williamsburg? Did you like them? What were your dislikes?

2. Who do you think Colonial Williamsburg caters to the most?

3. As a Williamsburg native and also a Colonial Williamsburg employee, would you ever eat at a Tavern? What do you think the difference is in the views of taverns by different people, such as Williamsburg natives, college students, and tourists?

Index/Transcription Practice

The process of transcription seemed very daunting at first, but as I got used to the keys used in the digital voice editor, it went rather more quickly than I anticipated. It still took a great deal of concentration and constant decision making as to what to leave in or to not (the “uh”s and the “um”s). Also, what I found to be the most challenging was understanding what one of my interviewees was saying. It was difficult to make out exactly what his words were at some points, even if I rewound lots and lots of times. Another challenge was to know how to write as if someone is talking. What I mean by this is the fact that sometimes people would talk over each other, or one person would begin to say something and then not complete their thought but quickly transition into another thought. It was difficult to write out these types of variations in thoughts. Other than that, it was what I expected the transcription process to be.

Indexing was a little challenging because I didn’t really know if I was doing it correctly. I tried to make sure I found the big topics, but when listening to it for the first time all the way through and acting like it was live, it was difficult to know what the “important” topics were going to be throughout the entirety of the interview. So I merely wrote down a lot of what was being said that sounded like major places or memories and proper nouns when they were used. Then I wrote down what times these occurred. I did all of this in the first draft that was hand written, and then when I was putting it into a table, I was able to look over the rough draft index and group things more together to come up with broader themes and categories.

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About

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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