“An Out-Of-This-Classroom Experience”: Students Engage with the Texas After Violence Project

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As part of our ongoing partnership with the Texas After Violence Project in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” students in the class recently completed an orientation session on GLIFOS Social Media, the digital archiving software used by the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) in order to host digital primary source collections.  Kathryn Darnall, Digital Asset Management Intern at the HRDI, provided us with a comprehensive yet highly accessible overview of GLIFOS, including many opportunities for students to interact with the technology and experiment with its functions.

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Screenshot from the GLIFOS page for a TAVP interview with Ireland Beazley. Students will input metadata on editing pages like this one in order to make interviews available on the public page of the HRDI.

Student responses to the GLIFOS orientation on our class blog highlighted the centrality of digital archiving tasks to our class’s commitment to community engagement.  In one post, titled “An Out-Of-This-Classroom Experience,” a student commented, “This is a chance for me to gain valuable skills about real-life computer technology. More than that, I am most excited about the chance to do something substantial for an organization outside of an academic setting.”  Another student pointed out that while participating in digital archiving tasks advances the TAVP mission, just as importantly, these tasks enhance liberal arts education:

“Even though the main goal of working with the TAVP is to help a non-profit and engage in activism, which I personally believe is central to feminist studies, as students, when we transcribe or create a table of contents for the video, we are better able to engage, critically think, and basically have a more meaningful interaction with the TAVP videos.”

Both student blog contributors mentioned the insights they are gaining into the profound “ripple effects” of the death penalty throughout Texas communities.  One student blogged that at this point in the class’s work with the TAVP,

“I have been able to expand my perceived web of peoples affected by the death penalty. First it starts with the victim and the person sentenced, then to the family of the victim, then extending towards the perpetrator’s family, next to the lawyers on both sides of the case, after that the jurors of the case, and somewhere in between, the friends of the victim/perpetrator and witnesses of the crime. I hope that my understanding of this web continues to expand through more experiences with the TAVP.”

Another student blogger echoed this sentiment:

“I am most excited about working with the Texas After Violence Project because of the vast array of perspectives they collect regarding the death penalty… Since I am interested in a career in the field of law, whether that be as a lawyer or a law enforcement agent, I am excited to be able to learn concrete ways the legal system effects not only those incarcerated but the ripple effect it has on family and friends as well.”

In addition to completing the GLIFOS orientation, students also engaged with the TAVP this past week by contributing to a class HistoryPin gallery featuring selected clips from TAVP oral history interviews.  You can explore our gallery here.

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Screenshot from class HistoryPin gallery of TAVP oral history interview clips.

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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.*

Texas After Violence Project Interns Learn Digital Archiving Software

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Today, the Texas After Violence Project intern team had the opportunity to participate in a GLIFOS workshop with T-Kay Sangwand, Human Rights Archivist, and Kathryn Darnall, Graduate Research Assistant, both of the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative.

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From left to right: Tu-Uyen Nguyen, Charlotte Nunes, Jessica Rubio, T-Kay Sangwand, Sharla Biefeld, Jordan Weber, and Lillie Leone. Image credit: Kathryn Darnall

Since 2009, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative has partnered with the Texas After Violence Project to digitally archive the audiovisual oral history interviews collected by the TAVP.  The interviews, which document how the death penalty has influenced Texas communities, are freely available as a resource for public dialogue and scholarly research.  GLIFOS is the software used by the HRDI to sync interview transcripts with interview recordings.  This makes the interviews more accessible as research tools; they are searchable by content, so researchers can quickly find the themes and topics that most interest them within the oral history interviews.

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A TAVP oral history interview with Donna Hogan, digitally archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative; note the synced transcript next to the video of the interview.

Each student intern is responsible for bringing one entire TAVP interview to completion, from transcription to HRDI archive and TAVP narrator page.  This way, Rebecca Lorins (TAVP Acting Director) and I hope that the students feel a stronger stake in the project, and we also like the idea that they’ll have a shareable “deliverable” to showcase on their resumes at the end of the semester.  Now that the interns have made such impressive progress transcribing, formatting, drafting abstracts, and creating tables of contents for the series of TAVP interviews they’re working on, they’re ready to begin the digital archiving process.  T-Kay assigned them usernames and passwords so that they can log in to the HRDI website and edit metadata in the TAVP portion of the site.

T-Kay and Kathryn offered a useful GLIFOS manual that has been in development since the beginning of the TAVP-HRDI collaboration in 2009.  After orienting the group to GLIFOS Social Media (GSM), T-Kay and Kathryn invited the students to begin the process of archiving their respective interviews.  Thus the “work” part of the workshop began!

Here’s a look behind the metadata scenes on the TAVP HRDI site:

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The metadata page for a TAVP oral history interview with Ireland Beazley

Descriptive metadata fields include interview creators and contributors, languages, geographic foci, and intellectual property rights.  Once the interns filled out the metadata fields, they began the time-intensive process of syncing transcripts with video.  The interns did a great job engaging with the technical aspects of the workshop.  A big thank-you to T-Kay and Kathryn for sharing their expertise and providing the TAVP intern team with such a useful, hands-on digital skill-building opportunity!