Volunteering and Service Projects

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: The Plank: It has been said that you must learn to take care of yourself before you can be effective at taking care of others.  How did you take care of yourself in 2014?  How will you take care of yourself in 2015?

One of the most rewarding personal things I’ve done this year is to continue being engaged in projects that matter to me.  Taking on extra projects outside of work might seem counter intuitive to self care.  But working on history projects that are intellectually challenging and interesting is something I greatly enjoy. I find engagement in this type of project rewarding and something that helps lift my mood.

Projects I’ve continued to be a part of this year:

  • Volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario‘s digital archive project.  This project has focused on making oral history interviews conducted by the MHSO accessible online.  It’s been great to be able to volunteer with this meaningful project from a distance and be able to help out with interview transcription, research/writing of biographies, and indexing of interviews.
  • Serving on the membership committee of the National Council of Public History.  NCPH is a great organization that I’ve enjoyed contributing to.  Serving on the membership committee has allowed me to become more engaged in the organization and connect with a number of public historians from both Canada and the United States.  
  • Active History Website.  I’ve continued to be a co-editor at Active History.  I’ve been involved with this project for a number of years now and it is something I have continued to enjoy participating in.  The site promotes the dissemination of historical knowledge and often focuses on the intersection of history and everyday events.

Digital Tools For Transcription

In the past when I have worked with audio recordings of oral history interviews I have worked with Audacity for the digitization and transcription of the recordings.  Audacity is open source and does a great job in the digitization process and handles the manipulation (clean-up) of audio files well.  Additionally, Audacity does allow users to slow down the playback rate, which helps a lot in the transcription process.

However the transcription process can be a bit clunky if you are constantly switching between an Audacity window and a word processing program.  I’ve found that using two screens and Alt+TAB can help with switching between programs to replay bits of audio, but the process has never been ideal. 

Enter Express Scribe (possibly accompanied by sounds of transcription joy). As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m currently volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) as a transcriber on their Discovering Multicultural Ontario Digital Archive project. This transcription gig is what introduced me to Express Scribe as a tool for transcription.

I haven’t bee using Express Scribe for nearly as many different tasks as I use Audacity for, but it has a good setup for transcription.  The interface is super easy to understand and it can be downloaded for free. Setup and figuring out how to use the program for transcription took under ten minutes. Comparatively, I found Audacity great once I got used to it but the multiple toolbars and copious numbers of icons made it a bit daunting at first.

Express Scribe has also been mentioned multiple times on the H-oralhistory listserv as a good option for oral historians.  Personally, I like the program because you can adjust the audio and type all within the same window.  It’s like a playback program and a word processing program combined.

What digital tools do you use in the transcription process?

Photo credit: Keenesaw State University Archives

Transcription and Oral History

A number of jobs and volunteer positions I’ve held have allowed me to work from home or off-site.  For example: The History Group internship I completed in 2009 had me working on source identification projects from home and in 2010 I volunteered as a historical research associate with the Red Cross.

 In the same vein, I recently started volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) on their Discovering Multicultural Ontario Digital Archive project.  In this role I’m helping with the transcription of oral histories that have been collected by the MHSO.  I can work from home on this project as the MHSO has set up an FTP site and guidelines for volunteers who live anywhere in Ontario.

The MHSO has over 9000 hours of recorded oral history, much of which was recorded on cassette tapes.  This current initiative, funded by an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, aims to preserve and increase accessibility to these oral histories.  Over 1200 recordings have been digitized and people across Ontario are helping with the transcription of these recordings. 

One of the interesting aspects of this project is that the oral history recordings were recorded across Ontario.  As a result, even though the MHSO is located in Toronto and many of its projects have focused on Toronto communities, in this project I have been able to listen to and transcribe oral history recordings from Northern Ontario.  Even though I’ve just started volunteering with the MHSO, I’ve already learned a number of interesting facts about life in Sudbury in the early 1900s.

Overall, volunteering with MHSO has reminded me of the value of volunteers and collaboration within the heritage field.  The Digital Archive project has also highlighted the time consuming, detail oriented nature of transcription.  There is an overwhelming number of archives and museums that hold unprocessed oral history collections, many of which are recorded on cassettes and other slowly deteriorating mediums.   It’s great to see a project placing such a high value on oral history and working to make oral history collections more accessible to the general public.