The Power of Personal Voice

Posted on March 18th, 2013 by

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

On Monday, March 18, JMM staff members and volunteers gathered for an oral history training workshop.

The training session was led by senior collections manager Jobi Zink.

The training session was led by senior collections manager Jobi Zink.

An eager group of students gathered in the board room for the workshop.

An eager group of students gathered in the board room for the workshop.

With more than 700 interviews in our collections, oral histories form an important part of the JMM collections. Like the artifacts in our collections, JMM oral histories are eclectic in nature and range in topic from major historical events like the Holocaust and civil rights era to more mundane subjects such as shopping in Jewish owned businesses and daily life in Maryland’s small towns.

The goal of this workshop was to teach proper techniques for conducting interviews as well as the mechanics of using our recording equipment.

 Esther Weiner practices how to properly use the digital recording equipment.

Esther Weiner practices how to properly use the digital recording equipment.

When I first started working at the JMM, we used cassette recorders that were considered top of the line when they were originally purchased. Today we use digital equipment that allows for greater flexibility in how interviews can be used. While the new equipment produces interviews that are higher quality than the older models, the technology can also be intimidating to volunteers (and to staff as well).

Here you see Jobi “patiently” answering a question posed by curator Karen Falk with one of her trademark stink eyes!

Here you see Jobi “patiently” answering a question posed by curator Karen Falk with one of her trademark stink eyes!

Hence the importance of our training.

Oral history interviews provide listeners with the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of specific historical events. As listeners of the acclaimed Story Corps project are aware, the subjects of interviews do not need to be famous – nor do the topics under discussion need to be momentous events from long ago – in order for the interview to be compelling.  (To learn more and to listen to archived interviews, visit storycorps.org/)

A search through our oral history database turns up interviews with Jewish business owners, former residents of East Baltimore (whose memories can be found in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit),

Three separate oral history quotes greet visitors as they enter the exhibit gallery and help set the exhibit’s tone.

Three separate oral history quotes greet visitors as they enter the exhibit gallery and help set the exhibit’s tone.

This colorful quote helps bring the Lombard Street market section to life.

This colorful quote helps bring the Lombard Street market section to life.

and food mavens (whose favorite Jewish food traditions and recipes helped inform the recent Chosen Food exhibit.) We also have on file interviews with Jacob Beser who discusses his World War II military career that included  flying in both missions that dropped atomic bombs on Japan (OH 0141 and OH 0331)and Mitzi Swan (OH 0658) who participated in the protest to integrate the tennis courts at Druid Hill Park.

Excerpts from Mitzi Swan’s interview can be found in the 2004 edition of Generations that focused on the theme of Jews in sports.

Excerpts from Mitzi Swan’s interview can be found in the 2004 edition of Generations that focused on the theme of Jews in sports.

Oral history interviewees are sought as part of the research for each new exhibit. Some of my personal favorite interviews were conducted with young campers, whose enthusiasm for their camping experience helped shaped the look and feel of Cabin Fever: Jewish Camping and Commitment (2005).

At the entrance to the exhibit, visitors encountered a quote expressing the magical feeling that campers experienced as the camp bus approached the entrance to camp.

At the entrance to the exhibit, visitors encountered a quote expressing the magical feeling that campers experienced as the camp bus approached the entrance to camp.

Exhibitions, programs, and publications are all enriched thanks to our vibrant oral history program. We are so excited to have a new corps of trained oral history interviewers who are now capable of collecting new fascinating stories to add to our collections.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Fox Point Oral History Project

Posted on April 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.

This past month I had the pleasure of being on a panel at the Oral History Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) Conference. The presentation was very special for me because I had the opportunity to talk about my work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and my graduate work while studying at Brown University. The conference allowed me to have a mini-reunion with my fellow Brown alumni who I worked with on a project called The Fox Point Oral History Project.

One of my greatest accomplishments at Brown was working on The Fox Point Oral History Project. The project began as an oral history and community engagement project that has continued to grow each year. While I was a student I interviewed former and past residents of Fox Point, a neighborhood that borders on Brown’s campus. The residents had wonderful stories and photographs that documented the diverse communities that lived and worked there, including Cape Verdeans, Portuguese, and African Americans. The neighborhood is located on the water in Providence so many residents there worked as longshoremen and stevedores.  The landscape of the neighborhood has changed and population has transitioned from a mostly working class neighborhood to one filled with student, professors, and professionals. Students and teachers at Brown realized the importance of this neighborhood and how it has rapidly changed and therefore began collecting oral histories and photographs from long time residents of the neighborhood.

After establishing a relationship with the community and collecting stories and memories we proceeded to share this history with the current residents of the neighborhood. We established a relationship with the local elementary school called Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and installed an exhibit in the hallways of the school using photographs and oral histories from the oral histories we collected. We then worked with the middle school students to teach them about the history of their neighborhood. After studying the history of the neighborhood the 6th graders added their own photographs to the exhibit that documented their current perspective of the neighborhood. Finally, the 6th graders were trained as docents and gave tours of the exhibition to their fellow students and members of the community at the exhibition opening and throughout the year.

The Fox Point Oral History Project was a wonderful opportunity for me. Talking about it at the OHMAR panel in relation to my work at the JMM really reminded me how much my graduate work helped to launch my career doing outreach and community engagement work. It also made me appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to continue to do great community-museum work at the JMM through projects such as our partnership with Commodore John Rodgers Middle School. I’m looking forward to see what community projects are in store for next year.

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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




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