Reflections on Transcription

The transcription process did not start well for me.  It took me about 45 minutes and an email conversation with Sarah to finally get a grasp on who was actually speaking in my section of the interview.  Listening through the recording the first time, it seemed as though a new person starting talking every three minutes or so.  All in all, transcribing ten minutes of interview took me about two hours, so I think that I might be in the slower bracket of people.  However, the thing that surprised me most about the whole process was just how interesting it all was.  It was like looking behind the curtain at something that I wasn’t meant to see.  Hearing a conversation from the past is really an amazing thing, considering the impossibility of it. And it was as if I was an actor myself, writing the words to a memoir as if they were my own, and manipulating those that I couldn’t  quite make out.  That was another aspect of the transcription process that struck me – how much my own biases and idiosyncratic thought and voice patterns influenced my perception of those words that I just couldn’t make out clearly.  It was an interpretation of something that is supposedly objective, something that isn’t supposed to be open to interpretation.  That’s the astounding part of it – how much of a role I played in an event that I was never supposed to play a role in.  In my own way, I was tacked onto the past ex post facto.  Even more so, I haven’t even gotten to how interesting the interview itself was.  It’s really phenomenal how people have the ability to make a subject that may seem mundane in writing  (a history of Williamsburg, for example) into something with life and depth and force.  Listening to this interview only solidified what Portelli wrote about – that the written word is no substitute for orality.

So, looking at the guidelines for this Assignment 3, it says that I should be critical of the interviewer – what did she do right and what did she do wrong?  To start off, I think that she let the interview play out organically, never forcing a particular topic into conversation where it didn’t belong.  She seemed to genuinely listen to her interviewees and respond to what they were saying, rather than what she wanted them to say.  However, I thought that she had a tendency to preface her questions with her own thoughts on the matter, which may have led to a bit of bias in the interviewee’s response.  However, I think that many of us do this in conversation, not as a way to voice our opinion or purposefully elicit a certain response from the person that we’re talking to, but just as a natural lead-in to the question itself.  So, I think this is something that I will have to be conscious of in my own interviewing, as I’m sure that I do this as well.  Otherwise, I think that the interviewer did a great job, and I got the impression that the interviewees were comfortable with the interviewer.


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.

Add Users

If you want to add yourself to this blog, please log in.