Striking Oral History “Gold” at the Texas After Violence Project

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Today I met with four members of the TAVP digital archiving internship team for a transcription workshop and work session.

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Making reference to the Baylor Institute for Oral History Style Guide, we discussed the challenges and responsibilities that come with transcribing spoken testimony.  Lillie, who has done some important work formatting TAVP transcriptions, brought up the challenge of determining when to edit out false starts and hanging phrases.  In accordance with the Style Guide, she doesn’t want to include every false start, but at the same time she doesn’t want to compromise the integrity of the narrator’s voice.  We agreed that while transcribing and formatting interviews might initially seem like straightforward tasks, in practice they involve a lot of careful judgement calls.

Despite the challenges, we agreed that there are many benefits of adhering to a standardized formatting system.  It gives the oral history archive a professional edge, which conveys respect for narrators’ contributions.  Standardizing transcriptions also makes them more useful as research tools, since researchers know where to look for certain information and what to expect in terms of layout.

After the transcription workshop, the interns jumped in to the transcribing task!

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Jordan: “This is gold!” From left: Jordan Weber, Sharla Biefeld, Lillie Leone, and Tu-Uyen Nguyen.

Jordan, Sharla, Lillie, and Tu-Uyen are pictured here showcasing the discs that hold the video-recorded interviews they’re transcribing.  After I snapped this picture, they popped the discs into the laptops, put in their headphones, and commenced “listening for a change.”

Jordan is transcribing an interview with Keith Brooks, son of Charlie Brooks, Jr., who in 1982 was the first person in the U.S. to be executed by lethal injection.  Jordan, like the Brooks family, is from the Fort Worth area.  He shared his thoughts on the deep community value of Keith Brooks’ personal story.

“This is gold!  I have a personal connection to this story because I grew up nearby where Keith Brooks grew up.  He mentions my high school!  He talks a lot about the social conditions that impacted his life and his father’s life and related to his execution.  Listening to his story has allowed me to go back and analyze my own community.  I think that’s really important in this project.  We’re documenting really important and vital stories that can affect national debates about the death penalty, but they’re coming from our communities.  Keith Brooks’ story is really, truly a Texas story, and I feel that as citizens of Texas we need to listen to these stories and evaluate our legal institutions by considering them from this personal level.”

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