Troy Reeves: Hello? Yes, I’m guessing you can hear me. Because I can hear myself well. Thank you. So, we’re going to start right at noon. But please feel free to get up, get snacks. There’s coffee, cookies, mushrooms, I’ve been told, and other things. So, welcome. This is Teresa Bergen’s noontime talk. You can see the title there. This discussion and talk is brought to you by the Mosse Program and the University Archives. I am Troy Reeves. I am head of the oral history program at the UW Archives and I get the pleasure of introducing Teresa Bergen. I have note cards. So I’m going to take my note cards out now.
Okay. So, I don’t do formal well. So this is going to be an informal introduction. And one of the things that Teresa and I have bonded over, I believe, in our seventeen plus years of friendship is neither of us take the other too seriously. So I don’t think we’re going to be too formal in my notes.
So, Teresa Bergen was the gig economy before the gig economy was cool. What do I mean by that? Well, she’s a writer. I mean, we know this book. I hope we all know this book. Transcribing Oral History, written by Teresa Bergen. But that’s not the only things she’s written. She writes long and short form. Fiction and nonfiction. Lots of interesting stuff on travel, food. Lots of great fiction. She’s a writer. She is also a yoga instructor. Every year at OHA, we have OHA yoga, which Teresa leads. Yoga’s so good that people will be in session, be pushed so hard that they will go throw up, and come back, and finish the session. (laughter)
Teresa Bergen: That’s one of Troy’s proudest accomplishments. (laughter)
Reeves: If I were to be buried, which I’m not, that would be on my tombstone. Yes.
Bergen: Because you’re immortal.
Reeves: No, because I’m going to be burned. (laughter) Anyway, so I learned a word today. Portraitist. P-o-r-t-r-a-i-t-i-s-t. Which is a person who does portraits. Teresa Bergen is a portraitist. She does great portraits of your cat. So if you’re interested in having your cat immortalized, please contact Teresa. She has business cards up here.
Bergen: I can do dogs and lizards, too.
Reeves: Yeah. I guess dogs and lizards. I only know of her cats. But dogs and lizards, too. Last, but certainly not least for this presentation, Teresa Bergen is a transcriptionist with twenty years of professional experience. She has transcribed for the UW Archives, transcribed for the Mosse Program, and she’s transcribed for people around the country and world.
And I want to read a quote of finish, from her book. This is from page four, when she talks about the things that transcriptionists need. And the last thing she says that a transcriptionist needs to succeed is humility. “Transcription is the ultimate fly on the wall experience. While the transcriptionist may feel like she gets to intimately know the narrator, the narrator is focused on the interviewer and may never know the transcriptionist exists. Try this exercise. Name one famous transcriptionist.”
Well after this discussion, if anybody asks you, you can now know one famous transcriptionist. Everyone, Teresa Bergen. (applause)
Bergen: Thank you, Troy, for that introduction. And thank you UW Archives and Mosse Center for bringing me out here to talk to you today. How is this volume? Can you hear me okay? Excellent. Okay. So, like Troy said, I do many things. The main things I do right now, though, are oral history work, mostly transcription, editing, indexing, the kind of post-interview side of things before they’re deposited. And I have a freelance writing career, too. So it’s been exciting to do this Transcribing Oral History book, because that was the first time those worlds really came together in a big way. Because what I write about is really separate. It’s all sorts of like lifestyle and travel, not really to do with history, except once in a while I can weave a little history in there.
So, doing this Transcribing Oral History book, someone asked me to write it from Routledge, an acquiring editor. And I at first thought they were crazy, because I was like, what, write a whole book about transcription? How much is there to say? You just listen to something, you type it out, you turn it in and then you’re done with it, and what is there to it? But once I started thinking about it, I realized there was more to it. And so in my research for this book, thinking about my own processes, reading what other people have written and interviewing about thirty people around the world that had something to do with transcript somewhere along the line, I learned a lot of stuff (feedback) I think I need stay even tone or I’m going to blast your eardrums, huh? So today I’m just going to talk about some of the things that I’ve learned over the years with my own work and in interviewing other people about transcription.
So just a little bit, so I know who I’m talking to today, how many people, do we have some students? All right. Do we have some faculty? Do we have some staff? Cool. Do people do interviews in here? Quite a few. Okay. Wonderful. So, I will proceed now. And there will be questions, I think, at the end. If someone has like a really, really burning question they’re dying to know, you can always jump in.
So, that’s me. Oh, you know what? I’m wearing the same shirt. (laughter) I really like these orange vintage-looking headphones. But those are kind of a prop for this photo shoot, because I usually just use regular old earbuds. But when I want to get fancy, I can dig out these orange kind of vintage headphones.
Okay. So, one of the first things I learned when I was researching this book, because I was thinking well, who even uses transcripts? Who does qualitative research? There was just a surprising number of fields that I came across. And these are some of the fields. And people use them in different ways. Like the museums might be excerpting something for a listening station or for texts to put in a presentation. The documentary film makers might be using the transcripts as a guide to find their way through, you know, many, many, many hours of film. The linguists are looking for all the things that linguists look for, which are a little bit beyond what I do. Market researchers, you know, trying to figure out if products and services are a success or not. I interviewed one tour guide in Australia who finds info for the tours she gives, I think she does walking tours, by doing oral histories with people in that neighborhood and then integrating them into her tour. Which makes it a lot richer and more of kind of the everyday voices of the people that live in that area. Oh, a friend came in! And then federal agencies. I’ve done a ton of work for the park service and the Corps of Engineers. So they do a lot of things about, lots of times it’s like they’re keeping their institutional memory alive. A lot of kind of employee history. Corporate people. The NGOs do some interesting things in other countries where they’re talking to politically persecuted people and then using that testimony to influence policy. So that’s a pretty good immediate use. I think the archives are wonderful, but it’s great when people are using things more immediately as well. And then social scientists in all different fields. I’ve worked with a lot of people that are using oral history methodology in all kinds of social science fields.
All right, so why do we even want (feedback) why do we even want a transcript?
Skye Doney: Try turning it down, maybe?
Bergen: (whispers) Okay. Should I whisper? Can you hear me if I whisper?
Doney: I don’t know. Might make you move over—
Bergen: The sultry transcriptionist. (laughter) I’ll just keep whispering. You can adjust it.
Doney: How’s that?
Bergen: I don’t know. How’s that? Sometimes I get excited and I speak more loudly and then I bust your eardrums. I’ll try not to get too excited about transcription, but it’s hard for me. Okay. So, a lot of good reasons to have a transcript instead of just working with audio. Most people find it easier to look through something on paper or search something in an electronic format than trying to find their way through a lot of audio.
A good project and transcriptionist, they’re going to have already corrected a lot of the proper nouns, so you’ll know that what you’re getting is accurate. They’re spelling the names of the people and the places right, which is very helpful. And cuts down embarrassment when you publish something from this transcript and then it’s, you know, you don’t want to end up with a secondhand typo because the first source wasn’t good. Or you’re just trying to transcribe it yourself from audio and you don’t really know how things are spelled.
And—oh, it’s funny. I have this right in front of me, too. (laughs) Like, what is that? Do I need my glasses? Paper’s still reliable for preservation format. Like does anybody still have a Laserdisc player? Or a mini cassette? Oh, we have a mini cassette owner!
We use it to bring in material.
Bergen: Okay. Cool. And then do you digitize it?
We digitize it immediately. [unclear]
Bergen: Excellent. Well, I’m impressed. I haven’t met too many people who still have a mini cassette. They are small and handy.
Okay. And then one of the really important things about transcripts is that the narrator has had a chance to review it. So any decent program, they’re going to send the transcript out to the narrator for review, and the narrator is going to say wait, that was mistranscribed. Or they might say wait, I misspoke, that’s the wrong year. And they’re going to have a chance to fix that. So that’s really important. We don’t want to be producing materials like a movie or a book or a museum exhibit where we have something, the narrator is saying something wrong because they haven’t had a chance to review that. So that’s one of the things a transcript does.
However, despite how wonderful transcripts are, not everybody is as enthusiastic about them. In oral history, the primary source is the audio, not the transcript. So a lot of oral historians are bothered that people don’t want to listen to the audio. Which is totally understandable. Because it’s better if you listen to the audio. You’re going to get a better understanding of the person’s personality, and you’re going to hear the inflections and understand the tone of voice more. And that’s going to add a lot more richness to your project. However, time is short and people don’t really want to listen to the audio that much if they have a transcript. Unless they, maybe they’re a linguist or they have some other special reason. But if you’re doing a project, I would really encourage you to listen to the audio, especially if it’s like a really important project you’re working on, not like you’re just looking for background information.
Yeah, and as we get new digital tools, the transcripts are a little less necessary because there’s ways that we can get right to the place in the recording that we want to. So those are some reasons people aren’t enthusiastic about transcription.
Now this slide, we have this really pretty picture of kayaking here. And this is to take away the pain of what I’m about to tell you. (laughter) So, oral history takes longer than people expect. People get really ambitious sometimes when they start out. And they’re like oh, we’ll interview him and her, and their neighbor and their cousin’s dog and everybody else. But they don’t always realize that it’s a lot more than just the time it takes to interview. Which can be considerable even by itself.
So these scary figures here are from Steven Sielaff. He’s at the Institute for Oral History at Baylor in Waco, which is one of our leading institutes of oral history in the country. So this is his estimation for one hour of oral history. So you have the pre-interview research, you have the interview time. So the interview time on-site, it’s not like you just get there and you’re like, “Hi! Okay! Let’s go!” and you press record. Like you have to chitchat, you have to prep them on what’s going to happen, you have to get them to sign a waiver. You have to make sure the equipment works and that you feel comfortable and that they feel comfortable. So you have to factor in all that.
Then we have the time it takes to transcribe. Has anyone in here transcribed? Was it fast? (laughter) Yeah, it takes a while. And then you have the auditing process ideally, too. That’s when you’re listening to the audio and reviewing your transcript at the same time. So that’s figured in here with the audio processing time that Steven’s estimating. And then the review. What is this wait? Well, narrators aren’t always that quick about getting the transcripts back. So sometimes you have to wait a while to get that back. And then final editing.
So you can see, it’s a lot of hours. Thirty to sixty over three to four months is Steven’s kind of gloomy estimate. It’s possible it will be a little faster. But it’s probably still going to be longer than you think.
Yeah. Lowliest yet costliest step. So just any of you who are aspiring to do more transcription in your life, just be forewarned: It’s not very glamorous. This, as Troy mentioned, is the most famous I’ve ever been as a transcriptionist in twenty years. I have a book. I get to come talk at a very famous institution here at UW. But most of my days are like this. I’m just sort of in the corner of my office, typing. The cat or dog might come in. That’s who I get the most acclaim from. (laughter) And yeah, some people even say it’s a tedious profession. But I really like it. It’s very important to me because I have this chance to add to the historical record. And I’ve worked for so many people around the country and a few out of the country. And I feel really good about having done my little part to work on these bigger projects and help preserve the voices of probably thousands of people at this point who might otherwise have been left out of the historical record. So I find it very satisfying, even though it’s kind of lowly, and even though I often feel like I’m using my skills from my eighth grade typing class more than from my master’s degree. (laughter)
Okay. So, wonderful as transcripts are, sometimes it’s really not worth transcribing them. So the main reasons are if the audio’s really crummy or if the content is too weak. Wait, hold on, so I can still talk. I don’t usually talk so much, since I’m usually quietly listening to, you know, transcribing. So you want to hear my somewhat racy example of when I first realized how weak content could be? Okay. No one’s shaking their head. Okay.
So I worked early on in my life of oral history at the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History at Louisiana State University. And while I was working there, so LSU’s, it’s the flagship university of the Louisiana system in Baton Rouge. So the most prominent people want their papers there, in Louisiana. Or some prominent people do, anyway.
So somebody died and left their papers to LSU. And we got these mystery boxes of stuff. And we’re like oh, this respected member, or this pillar of the community, this is going to be great stuff, right? (laughter) So there’s like all this—I was young, so pardon me that I believed this. (laughter)
So we bring out, there’s like papers and there are some, I don’t know, ledgers or whatever. And then we come to some reel to reel tapes. And believe it or not, I don’t know, do people still have reel to reel players in—okay. So you still have the reel to reel player. So, we had a reel to reel player. We dug it out, dusted it off, put this thing in there. And there’s sort of this hushed silence for us waiting to see what the pillar of the community would say. And it was, you know, completely unlabeled. Well, it was like, it was some kind of tape that was made in the 1950s of these guys watching a stag film. (laughter, groans) And they were all commenting. And like egging each other on. “What do you think of her? What do you think of that?” I mean, it was really kind of painful and embarrassing. But at the same time, it was so instructive. Because it really made me realize, just because there’s some old recording in a box, it is not a treasure. (laughter) And it is probably not worth the cost of transcribing. (laughter)
I have wondered many times how that got in the box of stuff to donate. If that was like sort of a malicious trick someone played on him or what. (laughter) Because it was kind of embarrassing. But I’ve always remembered that. Because in the many years since, transcribing, I can’t tell you how many times people have come across some kind of legacy box of tapes that they just assume is a treasure. And they send to me. And they’re like, “Okay, we need you to get these digitized, and then transcribe them all.” And lots of times they are just junk. You know, sometimes they don’t have labels. We don’t know who’s talking. We’re not sure what they’re talking about. They’re talking about photos that have been separated. So you want to think, if you ever come into a legacy collection, a box of mystery tapes, be sure you preview them first before you send them off to a transcriptionist. Because that is a costly mistake for what might be junk.
Okay, here we have a moose. But that’s just to entertain you because there’s a lot of text here and not really—photos of the keyboard seemed too boring. So if you notice photos, they’re just to be attractive.
So these are some things that we can do if you decide that you need to have some kind of record of what’s in your interviews, but you don’t have the budget to transcribe. Or they’re just not that great, but you still want to have a record of what’s on them. So, timed indexes are really good. You can do them with word processing software or you can do them with spreadsheets. And I’ll show an example of each of those in a moment. That’s a way, yeah, that’s a way you can have a good tool for scholars to know what’s in your collection without having to spend as much as you would for transcription.
Voice recognition software. So, it’s getting better. It may get better yet. I still don’t think it’s very good. But for some, I’ll talk more about that in a minute. In some cases, it may be useful.
Digital indexing of audio and OHMS, the Oral History Metadata Synthesizer, that’s hard to say, those are some kind of digital tools for indexing, rather than transcribing.
So here we have a timed index, word processing. This is from Troy’s collection here. I kind of abbreviated the stuff at the top so it would all fit on one slide, so sorry about that. The point, though, is that you can see like this whole section here, that’s like four or five minutes’ worth of somebody talking. So that would fill up several pages of a transcript and it would take longer to produce and cost more to produce. So this is a good way if somebody was researching anything that she talks about, they can just know right away if it’s worth, or know pretty quickly after scanning through the index if it’s worth pulling that audio and going right to that time and seeing if there’s something useful for their project. It’s like a million times, like imagine this compared to knowing just that Nancy Abraham had an interview in here. It’s a million times more useful.
There’s the same thing. So that’s the more recent one, right? Using the Excel spreadsheet. So this is a different UW transcript, but same idea. Stop time, start time, for that little chunk.
Okay. Voice recognition software. Anyone try this yet? Was it successful yet? It hasn’t been, in my opinion. I just looked today, because I haven’t tried one since I was writing this book, which has been like a year and a half now. But I looked it up today to try to see if there were any that were claiming more accuracy. And the best I found was like a 95 percent accuracy rate. Which sounds impressive. But if you think that’s like one in every 20 words or punctuation marks is wrong, that’s pretty slow going to fix it.
So the way it works is you put your audio into, you can upload it on a website or I think sometimes you can download a program and stick it in there. And then it spits out a transcript for you pretty quickly. And the one I used last, it cost like 15 bucks. So if it worked well, that would be great. People would love it. It would save a lot of money. You could transcribe everything. But if you have to fix everything, that takes a long time. So for me, since I’m fast and I’m professional, it took me about twice as long to fix the errors as it did to type it from just listening. And it was like a lot of mousing and like, oh, my shoulder, because I’m fixing everything. It’s much better for me like that than that for hours with the mouse fixing everything. And like every time somebody paused, the program thought it was a new speaker, so the formatting was all off, because it would go to a new, it would have an enter and go to a new space.
So, voice recognition software, I think it’s good, like if you have an army of low-paid, maybe you have a whole bunch of student workers or something. It might end up being cheaper. Especially if they’re not very fast typists, but they still have a good ear for language. It might work to do the voice recognition transcripts and then have your army of low-paid workers fix them. That might turn out cheaper. But, I don’t know. I haven’t been impressed with it yet. But it will probably improve eventually. As a friend of mine said recently, we’re all going to be replaced by cyborgs and out of work eventually. So, that’s what’s coming.
And I’m going to show you this next—oh, that was loud—I’m going to show you this next slide. I have to tell you ahead of time this is kind of unfair, because the voice recognition software warned me it didn’t like accents and it didn’t like poor audio quality. It didn’t like lectures of George Mosse recorded in the 1970s, and you said inside someone’s coat with a hidden tape recorder. So, but it was hard for me to understand this stuff when I was transcribing it. So I thought I’d see if I could outsource it to the voice recognition software. But here’s what I got for my fifteen dollars. Okay. I don’t know if you can read that from here? Probably not. It’s probably kind of small. I’ll just read you the first couple of sentences.
So this is the best as I could get, which is probably imperfect. And then this is what Trint got, the AI. Okay, so I’ll read you a little bit. So here’s what I think he said, “Last time I tried to tell you how the war was built into people’s lives. How they coped with the unparalleled confrontation of mass death and life in the trenches by lifting it either into the sacred or into the trivial. And when I talked about lifting it into the sacred, building this kind of bridge, I tried to tell you that this was connected to two things: to the stereotype of the hero, of the young hero, which continues in a third way the rediscovery of the body, the idea of Arcadia, of innocence, the idea of flowers and then the design of military cemeteries.” So, something along those lines.
And then, but we got the AI came out with, “All people like cope with the pain of day and night the sacred oranges. That was the stereotype. Then all caps. OH OH OH OH GOD. OH YEAH. (laughter) OH. OH. Really. I hear all. The majors all the same. Oh really. Which may be true that there may well be related to the point line. All caps. HEY. OH HEY. OH HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY. In this wall on this. War.” Which is kind of interesting. I mean, it was maybe worth fifteen dollars for the entertainment value. (laughter) But it didn’t really help me as far as sending Skye a transcript. So I still had to do it over. It did get oranges, no, it got sacred and stereotype. (feedback) Sorry about these terrible noises. Yeah, so that didn’t really work too well. It seems like there was something else I was going to say about it, but I forget.
Okay. So this brings us to the auditor. So after the transcription comes hopefully someone auditing this transcript. And with the Mosse materials, it’s been Skye. So that’s Skye, when it comes to the Mosse materials. So as probably a lot of you know, Dr. Mosse knew all about the intellectual history of the early twentieth century in Europe and knew all the names of people and movements and philosophies. And he spoke German, which I don’t. So I had a lot of terrible things in my transcripts where I just couldn’t get it, I was trying to spell it out phonetically, I had no idea what he was saying. So I turned in some pretty awful-looking transcripts that I wasn’t real proud of. But I saw one of them later that Skye had worked on with his vast knowledge of Dr. Mosse and of the language and those movements and those people he was talking about and the types of things he gave lectures on, and I could not even believe he got it out of that. So it really absolutely makes a difference who you get to audit these things. So if you have any kind of difficult, specialized language, just make sure, if you can get the interviewer to audit, that’s really good because they were there and they probably know what they were talking about, we hope. So they can figure that our or get someone else knowledgeable. But if you’d just given it to a student worker, they probably wouldn’t have been able to fill in much more than I did. Unless they were a student who was really knowledgeable in that area. Not to dis students or anything. I just mean your average, run of the mill, who had the same knowledge of the early twentieth century as I did. Which was not that much.
Okay. So, we’ll talk a little bit about interviewing. And forgive me if this seems obvious to, I know a lot of you are doing interviews. But I do get all of these mistakes with people who are grownups, experienced, usually doing good interviews. So I’ll just go through these kind of quickly. So, if you’re doing a one-on-one interview, that’s probably going to come out the best. If you have to do a group one for some reason, God love you. Try to put the recorder in the middle. If you have someone who’s really, really loud, try to maybe move it a little closer to someone who’s quiet. Try to get the people to identify themselves by their name each time they speak, especially if you have a big crowd, because it’s going to be hard to identify them later.
And if you have the helpful spouse, so, if you’ve ever done an interview where you’re interviewing one person but then the spouse happens to be there, too. And the spouse wants to finish thoughts and correct and fill in stories. Which, you know, once in a while they do provide some additional details, which is good. But they often really stop the flows of the stories, and it’s hard to understand what they’re saying because they’re both talking at once. And my favorite thing about the helpful spouse is usually they know they’re not really supposed to be there. So the interview’s going on here, so they sit back here. And they’re like (in low voice) “Oh! But the other thing…” And you can barely hear them transcribing. It’s really, really annoying. Because they know they’re not really supposed to be talking, so they kind of hang back. And they usually don’t identify their name, either. So if you do have one of these helpful spouses in your interview that you can’t really get rid of for whatever reason, just tell them to just move their chair up, state their name, join the conversation for real. Because it will be a lot easier to understand what they say later. And not so frustrating for me. But also, for your later scholars and researchers.
Okay. You want to test your equipment and speak normally from your chair. So if I’m going to speak right here, then I’m going to test it right here. I’m not going to say, (loudly) “Testing, one, two, three!” And then sit way back here where you can barely hear me. So think about that. Do a realistic test of your equipment.
Start easy. Just ask your one question at a time. So, don’t dump a whole bunch of questions on them at once. Ask them stuff that they know first, like how do you spell your full name? That’s a good question. Most people know that. And if they don’t, you’ll probably not want to cut the interview short and not waste your resources on that one.
And have a list of questions. But remember you can deviate if they say something interesting. But just have it as a backup. Like I have this. It’s sort of nerve wracking a little bit talking to a bunch of people. And if I didn’t have my notes, I would be screwed, right? I’d be like, uh… deer in headlights. So it’s always good if you’re an interviewer, too, to have that list of questions and be ready with it in case you blank out.
And, yeah. You probably know all that. We’ll just go on.
Okay. Oh, this is something. I just love my proper noun list. I don’t know if anyone uses this for your project. But most projects, I think, can really benefit from one. Because if you’re like me, especially the older I get, the less I remember everything. I used to be a lot better at remembering how to spell names. It seemed like they just stayed in my head. But now they don’t as much as they used to. So this is especially good. So, okay. My ideal idea for the proper noun list is that when the interviewer is doing the interview, they are keeping track of some of the names that the narrator says. Maybe jotting them down. You don’t have to stop the narrator and ask them how to spell it right then. But just be aware of them. Jot them down as you go. And then you can ask them at the end for the spelling. And they can spell as best they can. Although that should still be verified. Because narrators don’t always know how to spell, even if they think they do.
So you end up with this list, and then you can send it to your transcriptionist. And then this is going to save time, because you won’t have to go back and do all these find and replaces later when they misspell something over and over and over.
So the transcriptionist has a proper noun list. And then the transcriptionist is going to find more things as they go along and they do their fact checking. Like I usually transcribe everything through. And the things I don’t know, I put brackets with a question mark. And then after I get through it, I go and I do a lot of Googling, try to figure out how to spell things right. And then I add those to my proper noun list.
And this is especially important because you might have a project with a lot of interviews that goes on over the course of months or years and you’re doing other things in between. And then that makes it even harder to remember how to spell all these names and stuff.
So the proper noun list has more to its life than just for the transcriptionist. It could be sent back to the project afterwards, and then it can start to be a basis for finding aids, which is really useful, I think, and efficient to have that kind of organically grown up along the way.
Like I’m doing a project now where they’re not going to make the audio available. They do really long interviews. It’s going to be a very long transcript. So it’s just going to be a transcript that’s available. And it’s going to be a paper transcript, I believe. So you can’t even search it by keyword. So they want a book index with it. So my proper noun list is looking as a future life eventually as an index. So I think that’s going to be way easier to do it as I go along. And then it will be ready to turn into a proper book index one day. So, yeah, I’m a big fan of my proper noun list.
Okay. How do we come up with the money for our projects and for transcription? So these are just a few things I came across when I was working on my book and asking people how they finance this stuff. So, donations. That’s pretty obvious. Alums, anybody in the community that you’re interviewing that might have some interest in it and some funds and might want to sponsor in some way. There’s been more I’ve seen recently with crowdsourcing. Like people doing Kickstarters for their oral history projects. Some are really weird. It seemed like some of the comic book ones or the gaming ones were doing really well. Like the D and D oral history, or the World of Warcraft or whatever, I’m not up on all those. But there seemed to be a lot of those and people were spending the money for that. More so than for some of the, like when last I looked when I was doing my book, I think the World of Warcraft oral history had raised quite a few thousands while the Mormons in New Jersey had raised a single dollar. (laughter) So some things are just going to be more eye-catching. So if you have an eye-catching project, then maybe Kickstarter.
My friend Jeff who worked as an oral historian in Missouri for a long time, they had some kind of annual dinner that they raised funds at the Missouri, the state historical, what’s it called, the State Historical Society of Missouri. So they had an annual fundraising dinner. And he tacked on this wine raffle. He got people to donate wine, raffled it off. And then that went for transcription. It was like a wine raffle just for transcription funds that was tacked onto a bigger event, which I thought was pretty clever. And he also said he knows people around Missouri who sponsors all different kinds of dinner. So he says, spaghetti, chili, corned beef and cabbage, catfish, whatever your community likes. He said, “Something along those lines where it’s an easy, one pot meal that you can overcharge a little bit for a good cause. People are willing to come out because A, they support it, B, they get a meal out of it and C, they get to be with their community members, interact with each other and have a good time.”
And I think there’s really a lot to be said for hosting something like that for your project. Because people are going to remember that. It’s not just, they might forget they gave you fifty bucks or something. But they’re going to be like, “Oh, we got together. We had a good time. What’s going on with the project now?” And I think those people are maybe more likely to donate again, or come back to another event and support your, you know, maybe they’ll get catfish next year.
Okay. So this is something, when I was doing my research, I was coming across different studies on all sorts of things. Different phases of the transcript. And one of my favorite ones I came across—so there’s been some work on the effects of kind of difficult interviews for the researchers. Like the people doing the interviews themselves. And oh, is this giving them, are they feeling traumatized by hearing all this difficult stuff? But somebody had done a project to see about the effect on the transcriptionist. And they had, I wish I’d put the quote in here. It was so funny. They had concluded that, they said like, “The human conduit can think and feel.” I was like, “That’s me! (laughter) The human conduit! I think and I feel.” But it’s really true. The person who’s listening to this does think and feel. And they might be sitting there, with their cat or dog, and they’re typing. And maybe there’s just like this horrendous stuff. So think about if you’re doing a project that is going to be, people will be especially sensitive, maybe it’s child abuse, maybe it’s domestic violence. Maybe it’s some really graphic warfare. And just let that transcriptionist know ahead of time hey, I have a project about—I’m not even going to say. Just some horrible thing. And are you interested in working on it? You can just tell them that it might be a little graphic. Just tell them ahead of time rather than sending them a bunch of stuff and just not even thinking. Because sometimes people think that the transcriptionist is kind of like a machine. Like it just goes through us. Just through us, but without leaving any residue. But it leaves a lot of residue. Like you learn all this stuff from hearing it so intimately coming through the headphones. You know, it kind of becomes a part of you, some of these stories that you hear.
So, prep them. And if you do happen to have a project that’s confidential, where they’re not supposed to talk about it with anybody, you might want to give them a chance to debrief if it’s something really intense. Because they might not have anybody, they might not be allowed to talk about it, and they might just want to be like, “Oh, it was just really harrowing, that part!” So, maybe give them a chance. They’ll probably say no, but it’s nice to offer.
Think about crediting everybody on your project. The transcriptionist, the interviewers, the people that do any kind of audio processing. It’s just always good. You never know, you never know what the future’s going to bring, either. Maybe sometime they’re going to be the one hiring you. You don’t know. Just try to keep those– And it’s just nice. It makes people feel good. It doesn’t cost anything. So if you’re doing a book, try to think of everybody you could possibly put in the credits. If you’re doing an exhibit or an opening, try to send everybody, including the transcriptionist, an invitation to it. Yeah, refer them to other people. It’s just nice to do. It makes everybody feel better. And it doesn’t take you very much time or money or energy to do.
Oh! That’s it. Okay. Any questions?
Reeves: And the History Department has voted, I guess, that any questions need to be spoken through the microphone for accessibility. So good job, History Department.
Bergen: Oh, yeah.
Reeves: So if you have a question, please raise your hand and I will do my best to get the mic to you as efficiently as possible. Luke?
Luke Sprague: Just one quick comment. I work with oral histories with veterans here in Wisconsin. And I really appreciate your feedback in acknowledging some type of emotional impact on both the interviewer and the narrator. We see that all the time. And the transcriber, as well. So that’s a really important part to think about and consider. I know it affects a lot of our interviews. And thank you for bringing that up.
Bergen: Oh, thanks, yeah, for sure with veterans. I was just telling somebody a story that I heard from a veteran that I transcribed more than twenty years ago and it stuck with me all this time. Yeah, it really does make an impact.
Joy Block: I do oral histories, or I’ve done some for my PhD research. And while I really love the interviewing process, the transcription part has just stymied me.
Block: Yes. And some of it, my interviewees all speak English with pretty strong accents. So I’m going through there trying to figure out what exactly did they say, how to spell these things that I often known the language but I don’t know how to spell whatever it is that they’re saying. I find myself Googling things because they’ll be talking about something in their career that they’ve done and I have no idea what their field is. And it just bogs me down. So I was wondering, do you have any suggestions for people who are not professional transcriptionists who need to be doing transcription for the research that they’re doing?
Bergen: Okay, since you’re working with that population, I’m not sure where they’re from, but with their accents and the different language, you might need to enlist a helper from that community who can help decipher some of the accent. If you can hire somebody, or if you have a friend to listen to the most difficult ones and maybe come up with some of the words that you can’t spell, too. Yeah, because that’s just kind of impossible to figure out without some help. I do a lot of Googling, too. The one that got me the worst was this plant worker in Louisiana who was this retired petrochem worker and he kept saying (something pretty much indecipherable). I must have listened to that eighty times. I finally got it. It was “catalytic cracker” which is some term used in petroleum engineering. But I did so much listening over and over, and Googling anything like that. And then I’d look around the context of what else is he saying around that for some kind of clue, and try to Google different combinations. But yeah, sometimes you might just have to—and also, if it’s sent back for the narrator to review, that’s when you’re going to really definitively—but yeah, in a case like yours it’s especially important to send it back to the narrator for review.
Robin Rider: Super interesting. Now it works. Super interesting, and thank you so much. Having done some of the auditing work for an interviewer who did not follow your instructions to nod and be silent most of the time, do you have any hints for others about how much of the unneeded, unwanted interference on the part of the interviewer you transcribe out or somehow allide in the process?
Bergen: Oh, thanks, that’s a good question. I forgot, I had that on my PowerPoint but I forgot to mention it. So that’s when someone’s interviewing and they keep saying, “Yes, uh huh, I see, right on.” And they just keep drowning out the words of the narrator. Really annoying. Not very smart to do. So, you mean once you’re already auditing and like once the damage is done? I don’t put in every comment. I put in a few like that. And then if they’re going to see it, this is a little tricky, but if the interviewer is going to see it again, I try to sometimes subtly make my point by putting in brackets a few times things like “narrator’s words obscured by interviewer.” (laughter) “Inaudible, can’t hear narrator over interviewer.” And hope they get the point that way.
It’s funny being a transcriptionist. Because before I had this book and was asked to speak and was a famous transcriptionist like I am now, I was kind of the lowly individual on the team. And when I gave feedback, one time I gave some feedback and I swear, they acted like the couch had talked. I mean, (laughs) people, the highers-up aren’t always excited about the transcriptionist’s feedback when you say things like, “Well, I want to give you some advice about your interviewing style.” But if you’re able to give them advice, the advice to give them is to tell them to maintain eye contact, nod at the narrator. Let the narrator knows they’re listening. You can even tell them ahead of time if you’re doing the interview, you can tell your narrator before you start, “I’m going to try to be quiet because your words are the focus. But I’m here with you. I’m nodding.” I mean, you can tell them something like that if you think it’s going to feel too weird to just be quiet for most of the time.
Does that help?
Dana Freiburger: Thank you, Teresa. What if you are interviewing somebody and English is not their main language? So there’s an intermediate person translating your comments to them and their reply. How do you put it into the table? Not that you’re going to type in somebody else’s language word for word if you don’t know the language. But kind of when you’re in one of those situations, any feedback or comments there?
Bergen: Okay. The best practice is for the interviewer to be, I mean, the narrator to be interviewed in their native, in their preferred language they’re most comfortable in. To have it transcribed in that language. And then to translate it. That’s the best practice. That’s not always going to happen. There’s not a budget for that lots of times, and you might not be able to find someone who transcribes who speaks that language. But that’s the best practice.
Failing that, again, I’d say you kind of have to work with the narrator or with the translator after the fact to make sure that you’re really capturing what they say. Because the problem with that is, you know, you have somebody speaking in a second language. Well, obviously they’re pretty bright that they know more than one language. But they often come off looking not so great because the grammar’s not so good because it’s their second language. So you want to make it, yeah, you want to help them to look as, to show that they’re bright even though they’re speaking a second language. That’s why it’s really better if you can do it in their native language and translate. But if that’s not an option.
Me, as a transcriptionist, if there’s a whole lot of something in another language, I’ll just have to say, “You should try to find a bilingual transcriptionist who knows this language.” Or I’ll transcribe the English part and then I’ll just put in brackets that there’s like a chunk that somebody else needs to transcribe. Does that answer it? Okay.
Kacie Butcher: Hi. Thanks so much for coming. So I have a unique situation where we’re doing a bunch of oral histories for this project that I’m working on. And oftentimes I’m introduced to somebody and I build a connection with them and they feel comfortable talking to me. But my student researchers are actually the ones who know the most about this area of study. They’ve done either like their master’s on it or they’re working on this area in their PhD. So they actually know more about the time period than I do, but I have the connection with the person that we want to interview. So we have decided in some cases, rare, to do two interviewers there. And I’m really just there as this connection to them so they feel comfortable. But then the researcher is helping with follow-up questions and more specifics. Does that cause a problem on your end? Or does it complicate anything on your end or the transcription at all?
Bergen: Not very much. As long as you don’t, as long as you don’t speak over the other. I mean, the thing with the group interviews more than one on one is really mostly just not being able to hear people when they speak at the same time. But since you’re doing this very consciously, I’m guessing you’re probably not obscuring the words because you’re talking at the same time.
And, if you, and sometimes when people work together, too, they’ll have someone who’s kind of the lead interviewer. And then if there’s a lull, they might say, “Do you have any questions at this point?” And ask the sort of secondary interviewer. So if you have kind of a hierarchy like that, I think it works nicely, too. When you know one person is kind of going to be the lead. And you could always sort of hand signal them something, too, if something’s important that you feel like you need to follow up on rather than talking at the same time. Because you don’t want to lose any of your research, right? So you want to make sure that you’re speaking one at a time so that every precious word is captured correctly.
But I think that’s good if you do it in tandem like that and you’re working with somebody in the community and you have the connection.
Reeves: Going once, twice. Okay. I know Teresa would be happy to stick around for a few minutes, because I’m going to eat some of this stuff and I’m taking her to the next place. Also—
Bergen: And I have cards, too, if anybody has any kind of transcription questions. Feel free, I’ll try to come up with an answer.
Reeves: So can we give Teresa a round of applause? Thank you so much. (applause)
Bergen: Thanks. You didn’t ask me any of those hard questions. Just safely eject my hardware now.