Transcribing Oral Histories

Posted on July 25, 2011 by

A blog post by Summer Intern Carrie Coviello.

One of the tasks that I have to work on for the Levindale exhibition is to transcribe an oral history.  Transcribing an oral history means that I listen to the taped conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee and type up literally every word that the interviewer and interviewee say.  It is similar to being a court stenographer in that you record everything that goes on except you are not actually present at the interview.  As you can imagine, it can be a very interesting but a very slow and tedious process.

All the transcribing is done on the computer.  The recording is digitized so one can listen to it through Windows Media Player or iTunes.  You put on good quality headphones to block outside noises (though if you’re like me, you will hear things through the headphones anyway) and click “play” on your selected oral history.  The oral history I have mainly been working on is an interview of a Levindale employee.  When you have heard enough words that you can remember, you click “pause” on the oral history tape and type out what the person said exactly as they said it.  This process is repeated until the tape ends.

Headphones for Transcribing

Transcribing is a slow process.  Many times, you have to play a section of the tape over and over again to understand what a person said.  Even when you play the tape over and over again you still don’t know what the person said.  Or when you do know what the person said but have to figure out the spelling of the word or the person’s name that was mentioned.  It is also unbelievable how many words a person can say in just one minute.  There are times when almost a full page, single-spaced, can be typed with the interviewee’s words and not even a minute has gone by.

An example of what an oral history transcription looks like.

The upside of transcribing is that you get to listen in on the individual who is being interviewed and get to know his or her story.  If you are a nosy person, this is an excellent job for you.  I love hearing about people’s childhoods, what their school was like and how they ended up in the job that they are in.  I like to think up how I would respond to the questions asked or what my parents would say or what my grandmothers would have said.

I hope that in my future professional museum career I will be able to conduct oral history interviews because they are truly good resources for historical and cultural information.

Hard at work transcribing.

 

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