Significance of Interview Transcription in Oral History

by | Published on Dec 26, 2014 | Interview Transcription

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Interview transcription has evolved in our times. Any piece of spoken history will have to be transcribed, so transcription goes back to the most ancient origins of history itself since much of history in ancient times was documented and passed on through generations orally. The goal of transcription is to put in writing what has been described orally, or to convert already available data to more eligible and useable formats to be maintained as archives for use by future generations and scholars. Oral history, recorded through interviews, has many valuable bits of information and the transcript focuses on these chunks of data and any new knowledge which the narrator may have conveyed through his words.

What the Transcription Process Involves

Transcription of interviews involves several processes. It starts with word-for-word rendition of the interview with very little editing, if any. This is followed by a review of the verbatim document produced, when errors are corrected and accuracy is ensured. Then the document is handed over to the narrator who reviews the information, sometimes redacts or restricts some of the details and suggests changes if necessary. The changes are then made according to the narrator’s instructions. The text is then annotated and edited to make it appropriate for the context. Now that all the textual work is done, only indexing and cataloging of the transcript remain.

Digital vs. Paper Documents

Interview transcription is sometimes followed by document conversion processes where data in a particular digital format is converted to another digital format for ease of use. Paper documents have an advantage in that they resemble traditional documents and could be considered to lend some amount of legitimacy to the information. It is also a hard copy that can be referred to any time, be placed in a physical library and be cited by many users.

Researchers have generally preferred paper documents to audio or video versions mainly because of the ease with relevant bits of data that can be tracked or spotted, and corrected if need be. However, this cannot always remain an advantage since there are many sophisticated digital indexing and annotation tools available that facilitate editing in audio or video files as well.

Pros and Cons of Transcription

One of the greatest advantages of transcription is that it helps the data to be used well, since the data is presented in the format that is most convenient or appropriate for the person using it.

The disadvantages that have been pointed out against transcription are that it takes away some of the flavor of the information conveyed through the interview. The words and ideas of expression that come out through interviews, in a face-to-face conversation, may get lost. This has caused historians to approve the recording of such interviews, but not their transcripts, as the primary source. However, transcription has proved itself to be a significant element of oral history due to its practical benefits.

Trend Changes in Recording Oral History

The present decade is seeing significant changes in recording oral history with the use of new and more precise technologies that offer direct and instant access to the interview actually recorded. This is beginning to be used in podcasts, audio tours, e-magazines, museum tours and websites. This means that oral history is no longer confining itself to an archival status but getting more interactional with the audience. It’s coming to the point where transcription does not seem to be the best practice any more since the direct interview or source media can be easily accessed. The norm now seems to be linking the transcripts to their video or audio source files.

Transcription is still an integral element and historians still depend on transcripts. But being time- and labor-intensive, the equation is now punctuated with topics of automatic transcription and voice recognition software.

The fact is, the new technologies have not got rid of transcription. They are only being incorporated into the process.

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