Transcription for Oral History Projects – Is It Necessary?

Collecting oral histories has become increasingly popular over the last few years, with the improvements in audio technology allowing good quality digital recordings to be made, that can be safely archived and easily backed up. Certainly listening to recordings of people reflecting on a specific area of their past, whether it be the way a town has changed over the years, reflections of a war or how their feelings about religion have altered during their lifetime, is a fascinating experience, and with the improvements in digital technology it is now possible to (relatively) easily edit recordings so that you can pick out particularly relevant or interesting sections for radio broadcast, museum displays etc.

So is there a need to get your oral history projects transcribed? Well the simple answer is yes, and here are some reasons why:

Transcription can provide an excellent guide to your interviews and it’s fully searchable. That’s something that is just not possible with audio recording, so if you have twenty-five two-hour interviews about changes in the town centre, and you know that someone in one of them mentioned that statue put up after the war, how do you find it? A simple document search will provide the answer, provided your interviews are transcribed.

Not only that but it can also provide the basis for plays, books and documentaries. These cannot be written by someone simply listening to archives – they will need to see and collate the written material.

Historical researchers will also need to analyse and collate written text in order to draw conclusions. Researchers using interviews and case studies will normally run their work through a qualitative data analysis package, and again that requires written text to work with.

Although, as the Oral History Society points out on its website, ‘full verbatim transcription of recordings is hugely time-consuming and expensive, and can require special equipment,’ they appreciate that it can provide an excellent guide to your interviews. And here’s an important point to consider: do you really need a ‘full verbatim transcription’?

In my company a full verbatim transcription would cover every word from the moment the recorder is switched on to the point when it is turned off, but with digital recordings you can easily say to the transcriptionist, ‘Please transcribe between 2 minutes 38 seconds and 38 minutes 10 seconds; then again between 45 minutes 13 seconds and the end of the recording’ for example. This way you don’t even need to worry about editing the recording before having it transcribed.

Also, you probably don’t need a verbatim transcription! Again, the meaning of the word verbatim seems to differ from transcription company to transcription company, but we understand it as including every word, including repeated words, every cough, every non-verbal interaction (e.g. hmmm, er, um, ur), repeated failures to start a sentence, stutters and meaningless interjections e.g. someone saying ‘you know’ or ‘know what I mean’ or ‘kind of’ or ‘sort of’ every few seconds. If you conducted an oral history project then you’ll know the sort of kind of thing I’m talking about, I’m sure! Know what I mean?

A significantly cheaper level of transcription is intelligent verbatim, which is just what’s said (i.e. no tidying up of grammar) but missing out all the interjections, losing failed sentence starts; (for example, ‘Well I think … I can’t really remember … I don’t know if you want to hear about … Well, during the war I had a puppy called Billy.’ would become ‘During the war I had a puppy called Billy.’) and not including stutters, coughs etc. However, experienced oral history transcriptionists will be happy to include any of these things if they are particularly indicating emotion, and also put in, if it’s obvious from the recording and it’s requested, where someone laughs, cries etc.

Of course if you’re outsourcing your transcription to an expert then it’s also less time consuming for you, but also less time consuming altogether because a transcription service will be able to complete the work far faster than someone who does not have the relevant equipment or is not a fast touch typist.

The result will be a more relevant transcription that is more easily searchable and more useful for all concerned.

So if your oral history project really wants to provide an invaluable record for the future, while audio recordings are fascinating and important, the written word is still really the most useful tool for researchers, writers and so on.


The Egyptians, Greeks and Hippocrates – Cancer History Then and Now

Hippocrates of ancient Greece is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. Much information about the history of cancer has been credited to Hippocrates with the recognition of treatment of tumors which he named karcinos. That name evolved to cancer. He was born in 461 BC in Kos, Greecre and his medical career extended from 421- 404 BC. He was born to a wealthy family and the wealth allowed him to receive a fine education. He excelled in mathematics, music, poetry, philosophy and athletics. His father was also a physician and Hippocrates learned much as he went along when his father visited his patients. Hippocrates also traveled and brought his teachings to surrounding areas..

In the early days of his practice, although his teaching and his medical deductions in regard to natural preventive medicine was accepted by most people and by those he taught. the authorities did not agree. They set themselves up as mediators and spokesmen for the gods of that day, including those who ruled over health. Hippocrates was imprisoned for 20 years over his belief that diseases had natural causes rather than as the result of superstitions and gods. While he was in prison, he wrote a paper called “The Complicated Body” and included his belief in the healing power of nature and that the body could heal itself. His writing encompassed many things about the body that we know to be true today.

From another of his writings,”On the Physician,”. he wrote that the physician should always be well-kept, honest, calm, understanding, serious, paying close attention to the patient and all that surrounded the patient.

Hippocrates established the Hippocrates School of Medicine in the days of ancient Greece and it was this school which established medicine as a profession.

Cancer is not a new disease. The contributions of the ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures have made it possible for medical practitioners to have a greater knowledge of cancer today. Although Hippocrates contributed much to cancer research and that he named the disease, he was not the first to discover the disease.

The world’s oldest documented cases of cancer were from ancient Egypt in 1500 BC. The details of the discovery of 8 tumors on the breast was recorded on papyrus and describes how the tumors were treated by cauterization which was the method used to destroy tissue with a hot instrument called a “fire drill”. The only other treatment was palliative. Evidence also shows that the Egyptians could discern whether a tumor was benign or malignant. Surface tumors were removed by surgery similar to the way they are removed today.

The modern trend is “oncological disease”, which is a better description, since the scientific studies of its nature, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and palliative care of the disease called “cancer” must have coordinated treatment.

Today oncology includes surgery, internal medicine,radiotherapy, anatomical pathology, clinical and fundamental research. The oncologist does not work alone. He is a member of a team where everyone has to have a thorough knowledge of all the other descriptions related to the study of cancer. The team of medical personnel who took care of me were all housed in one building and I had only short walks to the lab, to the infusion room, to the surgeon, the cardiologist, the primary physician, the diagnostic scans, the colonoscopy specialist and each of these specialist were included in the loop following my care. A physician inserted a port right above my right breast so that I didn’t have to have a needle in the arm for the scans and infusions. The vein where it was inserted became clogged and the port had to be redone. It was attached to my jugular vein and remains there today so that when I go for my 3 months checkups, the technicians can access the port to take my scan which is much easier, quicker for them and more comfortable for me.

Many medical improvements, such as the widely available anesthesia which was introduced in 1846 and the invention of the x-ray in 1885 have been introduced into the improvement of cancer treatment. The discovery of a chemical in the mustard gas used in WWI was found to reduce white blood cells. Chemotherapy was born in 1919, but did not record its first success until 1947 with the remission of a pediatric leukemia patient. The year of 1964 brought research which showed a connection from smoking to cancer. The biggest push for cancer research came after President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971. Following quickly after the Act became law, the CT scan was developed in 1972 and there was a discovery of chromosome abnormalities in cancer patients in 1973. In 1981 the FDA approved the vaccine for treatment of hepatitis which is one of the primary causes of liver cancer During the early 1990’s for the first time, overall cancers began to fall. The FDA approved Gleevec, the first drug to target a specific gene mutation and in this year of 2012 cancer survivors total 12 million, a four fold increase in survivors since the Act was signed and a 20 percent increase since 2001.

Good ideas for today from Hippocrates: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” and “Foolish is the doctor who despises the knowledge acquired by the ancients.”