“Listening for a Change”: Students Blog about Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

Standard

This week in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” several students posted on our class blog about the experience of listening to a Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) oral history interview.  The TAVP collects oral history interviews from people across Texas who have been affected by the death penalty in our state.  The audiovisual interviews are archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  The motto of the TAVP–“Listening For A Change”–indicates the TAVP’s goal of influencing public discourse about capital punishment in Texas by providing a forum for individuals to share their stories.

Screenshot 2015-02-06 12.04.50

Students selected one oral history to listen to this week, and completed this Close Listening Worksheet as they listened. Using the results of these worksheets to compose blog posts, students reflected on the interviews, raised important questions, and made insightful observations about how the interviews connect with course readings.  Since the TAVP interviews represent a range of positions on the death penalty, one student remarked,

“Dismissing people based on their stance on capital punishment is not objective. Although anyone can agree or disagree with her it is important to listen to anyone and everyone’s story in a way that allows for judgement to take the backseat.”

Screenshot 2015-02-06 12.19.29

Screenshot from TAVP interview with Iliana Lopez, archived at the HRDI

Another student, who listened to an interview with Iliana López (see screenshot above), noted that this interview reinforces the importance of oral history at large.

“I found Illiana’s lived experiences accurately mapped out why restorative justice can be a powerful alternative to the responses of traditional law enforcement and courts… Her experience demonstrates the need to listen and share oral narratives; the stories of people we may not otherwise listen to, or who we may only hear through the filter of a criminal justice system that is more set on dehumanizing punishment rather than restorative conversation.”

Yet another student concluded, “It is difficult to learn to bear witness to injustice without either finding justice in it or turning yourself off. But witnessing is without question important.”

This is a significant point to which I would like to return over the course of our class discussions this semester.  Why is it important that we bear witness to injustice by engaging with oral histories?  What do we do with our emotions when listening to troubling narratives?  What are some productive ways in which we can process and respond to the stories of injustice we’re encountering?

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

Transcribing Central Texas Latin@ History

Standard

During today’s Latina History Project Session, student interns did important work to enhance access to Southwestern University’s Special Collections pertaining to Latina/Latino history in Central Texas.  They’re bringing their impressive Spanish language skills to bear transcribing a 1984 oral history interview with Conceptíon Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Georgetown in 1920, at which time he was one of only four Mexicans living in the town.  The interview was conducted by Laurie Rothhammer, who was an undergraduate history student at Southwestern.

IMG_0339

Nani (left) and Tori (right) transcribe an oral history interview in Special Collections.

The hour-long interview is in both Spanish and English.  Before its digitization, the interview looked like this:

IMG_0337

Cassette tape recording of the Conceptíon Lopez interview

Now it looks like this!

Screenshot 2014-12-05 10.34.03

Screenshot of the Conceptíon Lopez interview MP.3

Tori and Nani are working with the MP.3 version in order to minimize wear on the cassette tape.  By transcribing and translating the Spanish portions of the interview into English, they’re improving the accessibility of the oral history for researchers, hearing-impaired users, and non-Spanish-speaking users.

Before jumping into the transcription process, the three of us had a discussion about why transcription is so important when it comes to oral history.  Nani remarked that transcription is a form of preservation; if the original recording is lost, the transcript might provide a back-up of the contents.  Tori pointed out that transcriptions can aide researchers and expedite the research process, since transcripts are keyword-searchable while recordings are not.  Together, we reviewed the Baylor University Institute for Oral History Style Guide for tips on how to address the common challenges that arise in oral history transcription.  For example, how should a transcriber handle false starts, feedback words, and non-verbal sounds?  The Style Guide provides tips for maintaining the integrity of the narrator’s voice without necessarily generating a verbatim transcription.