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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TAVP Interns Successfully Oriented

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Last Friday, I got together for an orientation session with Rebecca Lorins, Acting Director of the Texas After Violence Project, and six fantastic undergraduate interns recruited from UT-Austin’s Bridging Disciplines Programs.  Although several of the students had already gotten started on transcription tasks, the two-hour orientation gave everyone a chance to meet each other and set goals for our semester-long project to process a series of TAVP interviews and archive them at the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  Here’s our super team!  From left to right: Blair Robbins, Jordan Weber, Charlotte Nunes, Jessica Rubio, Lillie Leone, Tu-Uyen Nguyen, and Sharla Biefeld.

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Apologies for the none too high quality image, but thanks to Rebecca for thinking to snap a picture!

Rebecca took the lead during the orientation, offering students excellent background on the history and identity of the TAVP as well as the history of the death penalty in Texas.  She also offered helpful remarks on oral history theory and practice.  I facilitated discussion of two pertinent readings Rebecca selected for the occasion: “What’s Messing With Texas Death Sentences?” by David McCord and “What is a ‘Good’ Interview?” by Ronald Grele.

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Image credit: Jessica Rubio

The interns asked great questions and engaged closely with the readings in discussion.  Several of them made insightful points about how the readings related to their TAVP experience thus far.  For example, Jordan and Sharla talked about how the overall decline in executions in Texas in recent years figures in some of the oral histories they are transcribing.  Their comments led to a dynamic discussion about how individual’s personal stories relate to structural developments in law and policy.

Now that the students are off and running on auditing, transcription, and formatting processes, Jessica Rubio kindly gave me permission to share her reflections on the early days of her internship.  Jessica’s eloquent reflections provide insights into the technical aspects of the auditing process as well as the profound emotional experiences that sometimes attend this process:

“The most relatable way to describe the first week of my TAVP internship is by calling it a whirlwind of emotions; I began the week flooded with excitement and anticipation of what was soon to come and ended the week bewildered by what I’d seen and heard. My first task was listening to and auditing the transcription of an interview with Derrek Brooks, a son of the first man killed by lethal injection in the United States. Throughout the interview I found myself constantly pausing the audio to fully absorb whatever I’d just heard. I came into the story a complete stranger and found that every new piece of information seemed to be more important or more crucial than the last.

Listening to Derrek’s story was like meeting a stranger at a party and playing audience to a first-hand account of their life from beginning to end; at the onset the only thing you know will happen is that there will be ups and downs in their story along the way. Even though I was expecting the ups and downs of Derrek’s story I found that each dip and rise of this rollercoaster was more profound than I had expected. I directly felt Derrek’s emotions throughout, from the obvious pain he feels due to an absent father to the eagerness in his voice to tell of what he feels to be an injustice and his goal to exonerate his father posthumously.

While auditing Derrek’s interview was certainly a monumental task to step off with, I’m certainly glad my introduction to this internship didn’t play out any other way. I really believe that delving in so deep so quickly instantly opened my eyes to what to expect out of this internship and also what all this process entails. I feel that every task from here on – large or small – I’ll be prepared for. I’m glad I had this base to jump from because I now fully see just how this work effects those both directly and indirectly involved.”

The Story of This Blog

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I recently completed my PhD in English at the University of Texas at Austin.  Currently, I teach World Literature classes at UT and co-Chair the Rapoport Center Human Rights and Archives Working Group.  Over the course of writing my dissertation on fiction of the British Empire, I continually looked to archives for the incomparable sense of context they offer.  Archival materials including the Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines’ Friend, published out of London from 1840 to 1931, Leonard Woolf’s unpublished correspondence during the mid-nineteen-teens with E.W. Perera, Sri Lankan lawyer and activist, and various typed and handwritten drafts of Coolie (1936), published by Anglophone Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand, all provided valuable insights into how novelists like E.M. Forster, Leonard Woolf, and Winifred Holtby oriented themselves to literary and political collaborators in areas of India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa.

The more I used archives as a student, the more interested I became in using archives as a teacher.  During a Graduate Assistantship at the UT Bridging Disciplines Programs, I learned about the growing trend toward inquiry-based learning in higher education.  Recognizing the utility of archival research tasks for facilitating undergraduate research skills such as thinking critically, identifying and summarizing main ideas, recognizing the contingency of knowledge, delineating fields of inquiry, and building research questions, I initiated a project to expand support for undergraduate archival research at UT’s many glorious archival institutions.  I created a series of resources for both students and educators on archives and interdisciplinary education, and developed an interactive Archival Research Workshop, which I have presented to undergraduate classes in English, History, and Government.

This semester—spring 2014—will be a fun one in terms of archives and education.  I’m integrating a substantial archive component in the two world literature surveys I teach.  And as Archives and Education point-person for the Human Rights and Archives Working Group, I’m collaborating with Rebecca Lorins of the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) to offer a team of UT undergraduate interns a meaningful opportunity to learn about digital archives by building them.  The students are processing interviews with people who have been affected by the death penalty in Texas, and archiving them at the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI).  Rebecca and I hope that the project will provide a rich internship experience for the students while substantively advancing the mission of the TAVP.

I established this blog to document and reflect upon these projects, as well as to chronicle events and opportunities of interest having to do with archives and education at UT and beyond.  I hope you’ll visit often!  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions for content.

Welcome! About This Blog.

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Welcome to the ArchivesEducate blog!  I am co-Director of Digital Scholarship Services in the Skillman Library at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.  Previously, I was a Mellon/Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Scholarship in the Department of Research and Digital Scholarship at the Smith Library Center at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.  I started this blog in Spring 2014 to document and reflect upon my projects having to do with archives and undergraduate education.  In the process of relating some of my adventures in archives and education, I hope to gain insights that will improve my own work in academic libraries and contribute to the broadening body of theory on the roles archives can play in higher education.

I’m very excited about the capacity of archives—both digital and material—to enhance undergraduate education.  Are you interested in archives and education?  Let’s talk!  E-mail me at nunesc@lafayette.edu, follow me on Twitter @CharlotteLNunes, or contact me here: