Transcribing Oral Histories

Posted on July 25th, 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.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

My Visit to Levindale

Posted on July 7th, 2011 by

A blog post by summer intern Carrie Coviello.

For my internship, I have been organizing and processing the materials that can be used for the upcoming exhibition at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Hospital.  While this has involved me spending hours and hours of time in front of the copy machine photocopying photographs and documents, seeing all of the past pictures of Levindale had made me really curious to see what Levindale is like today.  Luckily, I had two opportunities to visit Levindale recently.

On the first visit, I accompanied JMM Archivist Jennifer Vess to go to the Levindale Auxiliary.  The Auxiliary had offered to donate some of its materials to the JMM so we went to their office to do a collection’s assessment.  We took photographs of the materials and wrote down basic descriptions of what was on the shelves or in boxes.  From the photographs and the descriptions, the museum staff and the Collections Committee can make a decision about accepting the Auxiliary objects into the JMM Collection.

My first impression of Levindale was that it was huge.  Never, until now, have I seen a nursing home that had shuttles to transport people from building to building.  I saw the town center resident buildings which are under construction but well on their way to completion.  What I didn’t see, which made me very sad, was a cat or a dog roaming the hallways.  After seeing pictures of residents with animals and finding out that Levindale has a whole program that allows residents to have cats and dogs, I was excited to see some animals.  However no animals could be found.

My second visit to Levindale was yesterday, July 6.  I went along with Associate Director Anita Kassof, Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink, Curator Dean Krimmel, Exhibition Designer Chuck Mack, and Graphics Designer Paula Bogart to meet with members of the Levindale Exhibition team:  President Aric Spitulnik, project manager Dorothy Hellman, and PR manager Helene King.  At the meeting the model of the exhibit was presented as well as template graphics and various issues of the exhibit design were discussed.  From a Museum Studies graduate student stand point, it was interesting to hear the same issues on exhibit design (visual overload, text size, room flow, etc) that we frequently discuss in class.

Perhaps the best part of the visit came as we were leaving.  As we were getting off the elevator I glanced to the right and saw an orange cat at the other end of the hallway!  The cat came up to me and I learned that the cat’s name is Trixie.  We became the best of friends.  I hope to return to Levindale so that I can see my new friend Trixie again and make many other new friends, animal or human.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland