Archive for February, 2011

Transcription/Indexing Reflections

The hardest thing to work through was my bias as journalist as I have  conducted and transcribed interviews before, but have never analyzed the oral quality to them.  I naturally was inclined to exclude the umms and stutters,etc. but felt that I needed to include them where they were particularly distinct.  Generally, I kept worrying about my role as transcriber and really wanted to have as little presence as possible.  I couldn’t help thinking I was stealing Mr. Wallace’s voice and literally putting words in his mouth.  In other words, I didn’t want to take any authorship over  the interview but almost immediately, I realized that was impossible.  Practically every piece of dialogue posed a challenge and I’m afraid I was inconsistent in my treatment of the audio file.  Occasionally, I would use “…” for pauses, for instance, yet reviewing my work I realized I also used “–” which I think was used primarily to indicate an interuption.  There were countless other “close calls” that I had to make where I didn’t know whether to guess at the spelling, include a comma, or indicate laughter, for example.  Most of my judgements were difficult ones and I couldn’t help cringing a little when I thought of how arbitrary I was being.  Throughout the process, I felt like I was bastardizing their interview, like too much gets lost in translation moving from one medium to another.  The accent for one, but so many other things cannot be replicated when voices move to paper.  Overall my experience was like a kid eating brocoli-I hated it but knew it was good for me.


I found transcribing this interview to be an extremely frustrating task. I hesitate to critique the interviewer, because I am terrified of what I will sound like to others transcribing my work. However, with that said I will point out a few of the things that made transcribing difficult. First and foremost, the interviewer seemed hesitant and at times even stumbled over his words. Mumbling is difficult to comprehend face to face, even more so on a recording. Also, he contributed, in my opinion, too many “right,” “uh huh,” “OK,” and other comments of that sort when the interviewee was speaking. In my mind, such commentary is not essential. Thus, I omitted it from the transcription. Although the interviewee had a unique speech pattern, I could understand most of what he said. Cases in which I was unsure of a word are marked by an asterisk. I did include the “ums” as a sign of pause and/or thought. The punctuation used in my transcription is certainly not grammatically correct. Rather than inserting commas or periods where they would go in a piece of scholarly writing, I inserted them only where the speakers seemed to place them. Therefore, you may notice some incomplete or run-on sentences. While I know that this transcription may not be totally accurate, I did my best to truthfully represent both the interviewer and the narrator.

Transcription Assignment

I knew this would be time consuming and potentially very difficult depending on the quality of the recording, as my mom has worked as a medical transcriptionist and I grew up hearing her frustrations with doctors who didn’t always speak clearly. Even with this prior knowledge, I found transcribing to be a very difficult process.

I definitely learned that as an interviewer, it is a terrible idea to interrupt or try to speak over the interviewee. While this sounds like basic etiquette, I understand that when having a conversation and asking questions it is sometimes difficult not to jump in, but having only one person talk at once is crucial to the final transcript making sense. I wasn’t sure if I should put in the interjections of the interviewer or not and then continue on with the interviewee’s sentence, or just ignore those bits and transcribe it all as one piece. I generally ended up putting the interviewer’s comments in, although there were some places where I left them out because they did not seem crucial and really made things scattered. I also think interviewing just one person at a time would be much more efficient, in a way – when there were two or three people talking at once I not only had trouble distinguishing who was saying what, but also deciding what should get transcribed where. It made some sections very frustrating.

If things were unclear, I just marked them [inaudible]. I was a little unsure with some of the names that were used, and at points the recording was so quiet I really just could not figure out what was being said. I kept the ‘uhs’, ‘ums’, ‘mhmms’, and ‘likes’ because I think speech patterns are important and it honestly would have been very difficult to transcribe this without including verbal pauses and sentence repeats.

Transcription Reflection

I’d never done a transcription before this assignment, so I didn’t really know what to expect of the task. Everyone told me it was very time consuming, which it was, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I think the longer interviews will be much more challenging and tedious, but starting with 10 minutes was a manageable undertaking. I used the software download to slow down the speech, although I’m not sure that it helped as much as i thought it would. Next time I will experiment with slowing the interview down more because this time I was still falling behind and had to stop a lot.

I included most of the “like”s and “uhm”s in my transcript, although I did cut out those that seemed to have no effect on the sentence or question, for example if there was a long pause after it. For the most part, I think that these interjections reveal some meaning or can influence the interview, which is why I chose to keep them. I debated whether to type the words in the vernacular as they sounded (with accent) or whether to put them in plain English. I eventually decided to write in usual spelling but not necessarily in complete sentences, although I have no idea if that was the correct decision. There was only one part of the interview that was undistinguishable to me, so I took my best guess and  put it in brackets with a question mark.

I think my interviewer did a good job on the interview overall. Sometimes it seemed as if she was a little disorganized and unprepared, but that could mean she was just improvising her questions and was therefore unsure of the correct way to word things.

Transcription Reflections

I have transcribed fairly long interviews for other classes before, so I wasn’t too worried about being able to complete this transcription.  Despite some computer issues that took place in the middle of my transcription, I didn’t have much trouble.  That being said, because of the computer issues, I only used the voice editor for about half of the interview.  I think it’s important to note that, to me, using the software really changed the interview.  It made the “uhs” and “ums” much more noticeable which I think challenges our intuition on whether or not to include them in the transcript.  I think that listening to the interview a couple times on regular speed is definitely a good idea just so the listener understands the dialogue in its natural state, if that makes sense. I also think the software affects the conversational tone; I found it a little distracting because the slowed-down voices sounded really funny to me.

I included most of the “ums,” especially those that seemed like they could have indicated hesitation about addressing a topic that might have been slightly awkward, emotional, or more personal to discuss.  There were only a couple of words that I could not make out, so I marked them as “indistinguishable.”  I think the interviewer in my clip did a good job of following what the interviewee said by acknowledging his points and allowing the interviewee to elaborate, while still keeping the interview on track.

Transcription reflection

I’ve done some transcribing before in the past, so I didn’t find this exercise very challenging. For a sociology class once I transcribed an entire 3 hour forum, which took hours and hours, so this seemed relatively simple. It’s always hard to judge whether the ums and pauses are significant enough to be included, but other than that I didn’t run into too many roadblocks.

There weren’t many words that were unclear, and I mostly just left out any repeated words and ums, likes, etc. I thought the interviewer did a good job. He asked a lot of follow-up questions and tailored them to the responses that the interviewee gave. He also did a good job of affirming what the interviewee was saying and letting him know they were on the same page. I think he spent a little too long asking about how Newman felt about the nutritional value of his food. I think he might have had a more productive conversation if he’d asked him about what he thought in general about nutrition in America and problems of the availability of nutritious food instead of just specifically the problems with food people were choosing at the food bank. But in general I think he did a good job.

Archival Theory Response

In reading the Ridener chapters, I was surprised to find just how complex the theory behind the compilation and maintenance of archives could be.  It had seemed a simple fact that those in possession of important documents and other historically significant items would naturally want to organize and preserve these items.  However, as Chapter 1 tells us, even this apparently simple plan of action is deceptively complex.  Before an archive can be begun, for instance, it is necessary to decide what should be stored there, and what ought to be left out.  These decisions are made based on some degree of appraisal on the part of the archivists.

It was also surprising to find that advancements in technology, which it would seem would always improve the archivists’ ability to preserve the an item and its information, are actually occasionally detrimental to this process.  For instance, with the introduction of the television, many official conversations no longer were accompanied with a written component.  Similarly, the wide-spread introduction of the type-writer made it more difficult for researchers to identify individual writers.  We will have to consider obstacles such as these as we delve into materials for our documentary projects.

Clearly, there is much to be done to build and maintain a useful, successful archive.  However, if we take into account the simple steps listed in the Joffrion PowerPoint, as well as keeping important theoretical considerations in mind, such as those posed by Ridener, we will hopefully be able to add an impressive new batch of projects to the burgeoning WDP archives.

Archival Theory Response

Reading the excerpts from Ridener started me down the path of pondering the importance of thorough archives being kept, not only for the sake of cultural memory, but also for the purposes of academic curiosity. Admittedly I had never considered archival theory to be important before reading these chapters, and to be completely honest I had no idea there even WAS such a thing as archival theory, however in learning a little bit about archival theory, I’ve started to think that I might just be a believer in it. The first pioneers in archival theory in some ways could have been the early European explorers and nobles who saved their most exotic finds in “cabinets of curiosities” instead of melting them down for gold pieces, without understanding the history behind it, I too have amassed my own cabinet of curiosities throughout my travels across the East Coast of the United States, and Canada. Without giving much thought into the importance of my archival, I have nonetheless spent most of my life collecting a small special collection of my own, although admittedly it is comparatively minuscule. The advent of greater technology and its importance in modern archival theory also interested me a great deal, while this did not necessarily SURPRISE me, I was taken aback by the zeal with which archivists seem to have taken to advances in technology, I suppose that’s because in my mind I liken archivists to historians, while in reality the two are quite distinct.

Reflections on Archival Theory

One thing that the Ridener reading made me think of was how important the preservation of parts of history is to an understanding of our present-day situation and how we want to move forward. The first chapter also did a good job laying out the difference between a historian and an archivist. An archivist preserves and records different aspects of history that they decide are important. This is where archival theory gets interesting to me, because this is where the theory starts raising questions of what is important/ historically significant? Who gets to answer these questions? Who has the power to preserve some things for posterity and exclude others?

Joffrion describes a similar relationship between archivists, appraisers, and the institutions that preserve and make available the archived materials. I hadn’t really realized the scope of the term. According to Joffrion, archives can include things like art, music, architectural drawings, and even maps. In my mind, I had imagined archives to be written works, like journals, books, research papers, etc, that represented a particular part of history. I like the idea that an archive can be any sort of material culture, scholarly or otherwise. I was surprised by the sense of great control over archive materials that emerged in Joffrion’s work. There are specific appropriate means of access, and Joffrion establishes the “Intellectual, legal, and physical control over records” that she sees in archival practice. This shows the great value we ascribe to these records, and how much the current system seeks to protect them. This highlights further the importance of questions of what gets preserved and who makes those decisions.

Joffrion shows how the appraisal process is, in part, an economic decision. She says that appraisers look at a potential or actual acquisition and calculate whether the cost of preserving the document is worth the value that that document will have over time. This gets confusing because this theory seems to conflate economic value with value in the sense of having meaning, significance, or a helpful perspective for people living in the future. But she could also mean that appraisers want to make sure they don’t lose money and that the money will come back to them if the documents are valuable enough for people to pay to see them or to buy them. It’s unclear exactly how an appraiser looks at this dilemma.

How to Keep History

Last semester (Fall 2010), I had the opportunity to study in Washington, DC through William & Mary.  During my time there, I visited the National Archives and the Library of Congress archive building in Culpepper, VA.  There, we learned of the challenge of archiving and the constant innovation in technology.  For example, the Library of Congress told us that they had just purchased all Tweets, meaning they would house all Tweets ever Tweeted(?) in the Library.  To me, this seemed absurd, why would you want meaningless statements in 140 words or less? Especially given the universality of Twitter, that any Joe Schmo could tweet something and have it saved for posterity.  But it’s clear that with all the advances in technology over the past 20 years, archivists are meeting the challenge of appraisal head-on.  The only problem, well not the only problem, but one of the problems that sticks out to me is the culture divide.  Technology has advanced at a higher rate over the past two decades than ever before.  While this can be very beneficial for society, it also leaves some older generations in the dust.  Archivists who went to school in the 1960s or 70s may be less likely to be aware of things like Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media sites.  Therefore, archivists have the double duty of taking care of history as well as keeping up with the present, and that can be hard!  Even I have trouble with Facebook and I absolutely REFUSE to get a Twitter.  Don’t even get me started on texting!  But because these media get used so heavily by our generation, archivists have to re-orient there way of preserving history for posterity.  Instead of preserving letters of correspondence, they’ll be saving texts that don’t even have real words in them! How sad.  Anyway, I digress.

The reading we did this week was from a book by John Ridener on the study of archival theory.  The first part of the reading opens with a quote from George Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” [and the future!] –George Orwell.  The second part of the quote in brackets is my addition.  I fully believe that whoever is controlling how we preserve our present and our past, controls our future in the sense that, whatever is preserved and however it is preserved, determines future society’s interpretation of history.  Whenever I am studying history or reading a historical document, I keep a healthy dose of skepticism in mind.  To me, even primary documents are skewed but that’s because they are in the perspective of one person.  History is subjective.  How we interpret events in the present, determine how we shape that event as a historical one for the future.

Ridener says, “The often-contentious disagreement regarding if and how archivists should select material to become part of archives is the key to understanding the many discourses of archival theory” (Ridener 3).  I agree.  If it were up to me, we would save everything.  It’s impossible to say what did and did not have an impact on our culture.  However, I understand that choosing what to save is vital and can be quite difficult.  That’s Williamsburg Documentary Project is so important.  We study the history of a small town and write down and record memories that may have otherwise been lost with the passage of time.  Colonial Williamsburg is in the business of re-creating history from three or four hundred years ago.  As far as I know, no one besides us is taking the time to record life in Williamsburg after the colonial time period.  And really, Williamsburg’s history is just important as any other history, because everything that happened here, shaped the present state of the town, and that’s what we need to preserve.

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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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