Tag Archives: Transcription

LaBudde Special Collection Transcription: Learning from One and Many Voices

Coming back to work on transcriptions for LaBudde after having worked on transcriptions from interviews I had conducted for the LatinxKC project has been a little bit of an adjustment. It is interesting looking at the interviews now from the perspective of having finished the oral history class as opposed to my thoughts while I was taking the class. I remember the frustration of trying to hear and sort out many voices as opposed to just one voice, but I have now come to see the place for different approaches. Having read about the therapeutic benefits of a group interview, I can see why someone might choose the more informal round table method as a way to preserve history. I can also see the benefits of a monologue and removing some of the external sources of intimidation which might threaten to question a person’s memory. One of the primary take aways I had from the oral history course was the importance of memory and finding how events felt and were remember for individuals and communities. I have noticed that one benefit of a relaxed group is that the group self corrects some of the flows in memory in such a way that it allows for the speaker to preserve their memory of the event in a less threatened way. Although the little group may correct each other on the dates, the shared community of the group, particularly in the lesbian round table interview I’m working with, seems to be very conscious and sensitive towards the feelings and memories of the other group members. Yet, I have also found that self correction occures for individuals without the group, such as in the monologue I have transcribed. The difference is that a group self correcting often becomes chaotic and the very corrections the group wishes to impose can be lost within the jumble of words, laughter, and jesting which are usual benefits of such groups. The individual on the other hand, when self correcting, is limited to their own conflicting recollection, and although more understandable, the corrections can still result in relatively jumbled and uncertain conclusions. What the monologue style confession does give is a free flow of what the narrator finds important. I say confession, because with the existence of the microphone, the narrator is still very aware that they are speaking to other people and wants to please those listeners. They must do so, however, without those listeners being there to give supportive listening cues or to directly participate in the guiding of the conversation. So, in some ways, the monologue is the most authentic confession of the person’s memories and values of what was important. But in other ways, the lack of a living person and the smile or nod of their head, can leave narrators monologueing to expectations which are not even there.

The group interview, in contrast, would appear to have the greatest level of interruptions, tangents, and outright questioning of the narrator’s memory. Yet, the comfort of having friends and a shared sense of support and community in the group interview of the lesbian round table allowed the speakers to question each other without fear. Thus, despite the frequent outbursts of laughter and side comments, the group is comfortable and most members are able to reflect on the events and what it felt like to them.

On a more critical note, I do not believe I would prefer to conduct either of the interview forms I’ve been transcribing. The monologue, while therapeutic and potentially more comfortable for the speaker, holds potential pitfalls in the assumption that the narrator will no longer be nervous with the living person being removed and the cold inanimate judgment of the tape recorder remaining. Yet, if I had gotten an interview with the narrator (which was the case of the monologue) then a monologue might allow the narrator to speak and contradict me in a safer nonconfrontational format. This is a worthy benefit, especially if there were conflicting memories and perspectives of events and places between the interview and the monologue’s account.

I also do no believe I’d want to do the group interview either, but for different reasons. Although the group interview could be more comfortable and allow for womens voices to be presented in a more natural and freeing way, the difficulty of hearing such voices can be a problem. Although the group interview provides a great sense of the group’s relationships and community, as well as still effectively conveying key points if the narrators’ views, it can also lose the particular views and memories of some of the individual members. The group reflection allows for sparked memories to be added to the narrative and a weaving of stories and fragments into a group sense of shared experience. The individual strands and story treads which contribute to the overall weave are visible, but can be lost in the blending of so many stories and threads. I have noticed that some of the quieter narrators in the group interview tend to be overtalked and some individuals with differing perspectives can be ganged up on by more vocal or forceful speakers. Some of the softer spoken narrators can be lost in the midst of background jesting or bombastic laughter. While creating a great sense of the group and allowing a format which sparks recollections, reflections, and additional details to stories, the different individual perspectives and memory of events can be lost in a group interview. Most of this is because the additional details and freedom to jump in create overtalking. More importantly, the round table group interview was so comfortable that it allowed some narrators to jump in late in the recording, or suddenly appear on record when they had silently been participating the whole time. The increase of influencing factors and visual cues present in the round table makes an audio recording confusing to listen to. Without a visual recording included with the audio it is, at times, nearly impossible to know who and what is being talked to or about. Individual interviews with each person would have allowed for much deeper and complete interviews in many ways, esoecially for the more timid speakers. Again, the group interview does provides a sense of the groups memory and also allows for contributions to each other stories by the narrators in ways which cannot be discounted. Yet, without individual interviews, I can’t help but wonder if the stories told by the group are those the quieter members would have told on their own, or if the stronger members of the group, with the best of intentions or without even knowing it, guided the group into a memory distinctly imprinted with their leadership.

LaBudde Special Collections Transcription: Learning to Hear

Today I began two transcriptions which, though similar in focus, couldn’t have resulted in more diverse work experiences.  One was an individual monologue about the gay scene in Kansas City since the 1960s.  The other was a round table discussions of the different experiences of a group of lesbians in Kansas City.  While the monologue flowed fairly smoothly and demanded more focus on grammatical form, due to the narrators use of pauses and vocal delivery, the round table require more nuanced attention.  With frequent interruptions, laughter, and joking among the narrators as they seamlessly flowed off of and into each others conversations, I found myself needing to stop and learn the narrator’s unique voices.  While the first project demanded I try to understand the rhythm and meaning of the narrator’s delivery (to know what should be a period or comma), the other demanded I listen for distinct voice markers.

In both cases I needed to hear the individual quality of the narrator’s voice, but in different ways.  I couldn’t simply type out what I heard.  In the monologue, without first hearing the narrators rhythm and broader topic, I could very easily structure the statements incorrectly.  In the round table interview, the general lack of names being given before speaking and the boisterous free-flow of conversation, left me confused without better context.  Though both required topical context, the round table drove me to become familiar with the voices themselves.  In both transcriptions I needed to start orienting myself a few minutes into the recording, not at the beginning.  This was a new experience compared to those stories I had heard since childhood which start at, you guessed it, the beginning.  I needed to not only hear the rural style to “Pat’s” Midwestern voice as opposed to the higher pitched, New Jersey fast pace of Giselle’s voice; but I also needed to hear the more nuanced differences between the rich tones of Sue’s Davenport voice  and Bev’s Kansas City voice.

The longer I listened, over and over, I started to hear the vocal tones of different laughs and the patterns of different speakers.  I began to become familiar with their voices, to know them.  I began to really hear them.  Sometimes foreign to the historical voices of monographs and journal essays, the recordings brought be into a more challenging and more personal type of history.  It was challenging, disorienting, and a little unsettling.  But it was also beautiful.  The struggle to discover the voices of the historical agents was present, just like in other forms of research, but in new ways.  It wasn’t enough to hear the narrator’s voice, to get their words, but I had to discern their voice for its distinct qualities.  It wasn’t enough to know the words and actions of the historical agent, but what makes them different from other historical agents.  Today was a wonderful example of literally learning to hear the voices of those in the past who I had never heard before, and I can’t wait to hear what they will say next.

LaBudde

GLAMA

Summer Internship Opportunity at the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education seeks a summer intern who will become familiar with local survivor testimony through the transcription of oral history videos. Additional tasks in support of the project may include conducting research to identify hard copy and web-based resources to contextualize and support each survivor story. The project requires a basic understanding of modern European and Holocaust history. A familiarity with European languages and accents is beneficial. Flexible scheduling of hours Monday-Thursday on a consistent schedule.

Interested applicants should send initial inquiries to Jessica Rockhold, Director of Education,  jessicar@mchekc.org and follow the instruction on the How to Apply page. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

“Kitchka, kitchka”

IMG_1361After working on over a dozen transcripts of Holocaust survivor interviews, I have learned a lot of information that I did not expect to learn from this experience. I know more Hebrew and more about various Jewish holidays that I ever knew before. I’ve learned how to identify Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish words (to a certain extent). I’ve learned about branches of Zionist organizations in Eastern Europe. The context needed to accurately transcribe this information is sometimes daunting, but it is also fascinating to learn about the everyday life of pre-war Poland, Germany, and Hungary through the memories of the interviewees.

I have also learned when I am likely to have a more difficult time with a transcription. With my background in German, I am usually able to easily handle an interview full of German terms or place names. Polish, on the other hand, is not so familiar to me – often, however, the Polish mentioned in the interview is supplemented by Yiddish, which is more similar to German. Hungarian is, unfortunately, almost entirely foreign to me, but I have only worked on two interviews from Hungarian survivors. As I said before, Google Translate is a big help for identifying words or small phrases.

Sometimes, though, the path of researching a term or phrase is anything but straightforward. As I was working on an interview with a Polish survivor, he mentioned a game that he used to play when he was a child. “Kitchka,” he said – the interviewer was not sure what he meant, and as the interviewee described it, the interviewer decided it must be cricket. To check for spelling, I looked for the Polish word for cricket, and then the Yiddish word, but nothing matched. Eventually we contacted a historian Jessica knows to ask, and it turns out that “kitchka” is an obscure game particular to the area the survivor grew up in, with some similarities to cricket. No matter how much I may feel prepared for the next transcript, there is usually at least one curveball waiting for me.