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3.2 Introduction: oral tradition and oral history

Peter Mazikana and William Moss

1. introduction

The post-Second World War period has brought about a significant expansion in the functions and responsibilities of archival institutions and the archivists who manage them. Against a background of stagnant or diminishing resources, archivists have been called upon to accommodate increasingly large volumes of records, to adapt traditional archival practices and principles to new sources of information and record media, and to cope with rapid technological advances in communications and recordkeeping devices.

The customary archival role of the custodian or keeper of local, state, and central government records has had to be modified and transformed in many ways. This transformation has not been easy, as may be shown by the continuing controversy over the degree of involvement by archivists in the management of current and semi-current records. Archivists in different countries have responded in different ways to the challenges that have arisen. It is not surprising, therefore, that oral tradition and oral history have not received the universal welcome they deserve as legitimate archival endeavours.

There is nothing new in the recording, use, and preservation of oral tradition and oral history. Indeed, individuals and institutions have collected, used, and preserved oral sources and have made those materials available to researchers for years. To a large extent, however, this has been done by university departments, specialized research institutions, or archival units set up specifically to deal with oral sources or sound recordings. For archival institutions at the local, state, and national levels, the novelty lies in the extent to which they are being asked to accept the role of custodians and administrators of this material and the extent to which they are even being asked to assume the entirely unfamiliar and often uncomfortable role of participation in the creation of these records. Whatever the pros and cons of such involvement, there is little doubt that oral tradition and oral history have had and will continue to have increasingly significant impact on archival work, and archivists must be prepared to accommodate and master this material. To do so, however, they must have as full and precise an understanding of oral history and oral tradition as they have of other more familiar archival sources.

Oral tradition and oral history share a common oral nature. While it is deceptively easy to propose distinctions between them, it is more difficult to sustain the differences in practice. There is often much similarity in the ways they are collected, processed, stored, and made available to researchers and in the equipment required to record and preserve these materials. In common practice, both those who concentrate on oral history and those who work with oral tradition belong to a common class of oral historians and share many of the same interests, concerns, and objectives, methods and procedures.

Oral traditions are those recollections of the past, orally transmitted recounted, that arise naturally within and from the dynamics of a culture. They are shared widely throughout the culture by word of mouth even though they may be entrusted to particular people for safekeeping, transmittal, recitation, and narration. They are organic expressions of the identity, purpose, functions, customs, and generational continuity of the culture in which they occur. They happen spontaneously as phenomena of cultural expression. They would exist, and indeed they have existed in the absence of written notes or other more sophisticated recording devices. They are not direct experiences of the narrators, and they must be transmitted by word of mouth to qualify as oral tradition.

Oral history, on the other hand, is usually identified as an activity, a detached and academic process of inquiry into the memories of people who have experienced the recent past directly. This inquiry and the responses it generates are recorded to supplement written records that have been found wanting in some measure for historical analysis. It is a studied, abstract, and analytic practice of historians and other social scientists, and it relies heavily on a recording device, whether manual, mechanical, or electronic.

Oral history owes much to the traditions of Western European historiography. It was developed partly to remedy deficiencies in written records, but it has been viewed by many traditional historians as an undisciplined, rebellious, and perhaps even irresponsible child of documentary history. Rebellious or not, oral history necessarily presumes an existing context of written records, from which prior research identifies major lacunae that may be filled through the recording of testimony by participants and witnesses to the events in question. The product of oral history is subject to textual criticism and content analysis by the same standards that are applied by historians to written documents.

Although oral traditions may be collected as an academic exercise and subsumed under the general umbrella of oral history, in their very nature they have an inherent additional social value in contributing to the social cohesion, dynamic evolution, and durability of the culture they represent. Oral traditions are therefore changed in the very act of recording from dynamic and developing or evolving self-consciousness into fixed and static "snapshots" of the culture at one point in its development. They become abstracted from the process that creates and nurtures them, and in this they necessarily become outdated very rapidly.

Oral traditions are to a large extent identified with societies lacking a written tradition, but they also exist in highly literate societies, even those with impressive archives of written records. Their most important archival function, however, has been in documenting those societies without written records, throwing light on the historical, social, economic, and cultural development of such societies. In many cases it has been the only way in which the past of a society could be reconstructed and recorded in written form for archival preservation.

Oral history became necessary, at least in part, because many historians came to believe that written records were excessively limited to the documentation of a ruling government or elite class, or to a dominant national function such as religion or law. Thus, much social history went unrecorded or was recorded incidental to other purposes which diminished the usefulness of the record for social history. Whole classes of people were poorly represented in great national annals, and the perspective reflected in those annals tended to be highly legalistic, formal, and bureaucratic. Modern historians are seeking to remedy this deficiency in a variety of ways, among them the collection of oral history and oral tradition. Modern institutions, whether commercial, governmental, religious, or social, have come to discover a need for documenting and sharing information beyond the strict confines of records of official transactions. Furthermore, oral history, even at its most studied and academic levels, has begun to discover the importance and use of mythology to rationalize even the most highly sophisticated and deterministic activities of a modern technological society. As in the case of oral traditions, the relationship of a traditional perspective to the social dynamic may be as significant as the evidential value of the contents of oral history for documentation of historical phenomena.

Archives require durable records removed from the direct effect of continuing social development. Archivists must understand that in acquiring oral sources they are participating in a process of transformation from socially dynamic and evolving sources to static and durable records of segments of that process. For the archivist, the distinctions between oral tradition and oral history are important primarily in understanding the provenance of each, and perhaps in developing appraisal criteria for deciding the durability of the value of each for evidential, administrative, or general information needs. The forms in which the archivist encounters them are often remarkably similar, and the distinctions between them are often unimportant in archival management of the physical property of the records once created and deposited in the archives. Handwritten or typed notes and transcripts, magnetic audiotapes, sound motion picture films, and videotapes all may contain oral source records, but the most common for both oral tradition and oral history is magnetic audiotape, often but not necessarily accompanied by a written transcript or schedule of contents of the tape. Each form may record one, two, or several participants, although multiple participants beyond the inquirer-respondent dialogue form in oral history are less common. The inquirer or collector role in recordings of oral tradition is commonly much more reserved, obscure, and self-effacing than in the oral history interview, where the interviewer must act as a catalyst to prompt and challenge the memory of the narrator.

It is crucially important, however, for both oral history and for oral tradition, that the archivist understand that what is given to the archives is a record of an interview or the record of a recounting of an oral tradition; it is not a record of or from the past about which the subject speaks, although it may be an attempt to define or recreate that past. It is a record of an event (an interview, a story-telling, the recitation of an epic poem, etc.) that took place in the recent past, not a surviving relic of that more distant past of which the narrator speaks, even if the information supplied is the only surviving evidence of that past known to exist.

2.0 archival management of the record

2.1 General Archival Concerns

2.1.1 Nature of the Record

It is essential to remember, as noted earlier, that the record produced by the oral history and oral tradition collection process is a recording of an interview or of a narration. It is not, properly speaking, a record of past events, even though those events may be narrated, recited, recollected, reflected upon, examined, and evaluated in the content of the recording. The product indeed may be consulted by historians to seek and find evidence of what took place in the past; but, for archivists "the record" is a record of an interview or narration, or perhaps a conversation among several people, that took place in a time and perhaps in a place well removed from the events discussed or narrated. So long as the archivist managing oral history and oral tradition records maintains this perspective the administration of these records may be orderly and precise. Without it there may well be considerable confusion.

2.1.2 Appraisal of the Record

The archivist must, however, appraise each oral history or oral tradition record on the merits of its contents as well as on provenance, just as must be done with other kinds of records. Standard application of archival judgment as to the intrinsic value of the material and to primary and secondary values, administrative and historical values, evidential and informational values, and enduring or permanent values of an item for future use all must be addressed for oral history and oral tradition materials just as for traditional written records.

2.1.3 Provenance of the Record

Oral history and oral tradition records, like all other records, are created by a process, and sound archival management requires an understanding of that process and the provenance of each item accessioned. These records may be created by archival institutions when they deliberately conduct interviews and record oral traditions to supplement or remedy deficiencies in existing archives. They may be created by government agencies as inquiries into their own histories, or as inquiries into the histories of people, places, organizations, functions, or programmes over which they had jurisdiction or responsibility. For instance, some colonial governments conducted extensive inquiries into tribal histories searching for resolutions of tribal boundary and chieftainship disputes. The records may be created by semi private or private agencies under contract to government agencies for the same purposes. They may be created entirety in the private sector by scholars, educational and research institutions, business corporations, social and religious institutions and associations, and so on, and these records may at some time be acquired by an archival institution. Each of these kinds of records may be subject to different requirements of administration depending on their provenance and their status under the laws, customs, and political circumstances of the nation in which they were collected and the nation in whose archival institutions they may be deposited. In some cases, archivists may have to deal with records created in one country and deposited in another, or with records shared by two or more countries having common interests in the records. However, archivists have also encountered this problem occasionally in the matter of traditional written records.

2.1.4 Form of the Record

As previously noted, the most common form of an oral source record is a magnetic audiotape, but the archivist may encounter oral sources in any medium capable of reproducing the sounds of spoken voice or representing speech in written words and symbols. Each form of record or medium presents its own requirements and problems for storage, preservation, retrieval, and reference use. Therefore, although it is clearly essential to establish intellectual and administrative control according to provenance of the material, it may also be necessary to establish controls based on the form of the record and its use. A motion picture film with narration in an obscure and unfamiliar language presents a whole different set of requirements from an audiotape in the local language, and must be handled accordingly.

2.1.5 Ownership and Consent

Depending on the laws and customs of the country and culture involved, it may be necessary for the archivist to be sure that ownership rights and rights of use are properly respected. In some countries there is a strong sense of proprietary right of the person interviewed or the person narrating to the intellectual property of his memory and to the formulated response to the collecting inquiry, whether for oral history or oral tradition. In some cultures, memory is integral to personality and to the soul of the individual, and the recording of spoken memoirs for use by others may be considered a kind of spiritual theft. Whether the proprietary rights are grounded in custom, religion, economic property, or law, the archival manager is required to demonstrate that the interview or narration is recorded, acquired, and used in keeping with prevailing requirements of the nation concerned. This requires in many cases establishment and documentation of the voluntary consent of the person interviewed or recorded. In some cases consent may be implied sufficiently in the very act of participation. Other situations may require more sophisticated, elaborate, and formal legal documentation to record an agreement and consent to the process and transfer of material.

2.1.6 Restrictions

Closely related to the issue of proprietary rights is the question of restrictions on use of oral history and oral tradition recordings. For the most part, restrictions on the use of these records are exactly parallel to restrictions on other types of records. It is not uncommon for oral history and oral tradition materials to be restricted entirely or in part for a period of time after being deposited in an archival institution. The restrictions may be imposed by governments as a matter of law or regulation, or perhaps by those interviewed and recorded as a condition of agreement to the recording in the first place. The reasons for restriction normally have to do with personal privacy, mutual confidentiality, or national security. Secrecy of group rites, as in fraternal and religious orders or secret societies may also be involved. Material may also become sensitive overnight in the shifting fortunes of political powers within a country. It is important to the proper administration of oral source materials, as with any other records, that such restrictions be stated explicitly so that management of them may be unambiguously carried out and may be consistent over time. It is preferable that a specific term of months or years be placed on such restrictions whenever possible so that materials may be made available automatically at the end of the term without need for further negotiation. Restricted materials must, of course, be identified clearly and segregated from materials open to research so as to prevent abridgment of restriction agreements and to prevent the damage that might be done to all parties by premature public use.

2.1.7 Arrangement

Since the provenance of oral sources may vary widely, and since their forms may also vary widely, the question of arrangement is an important one. Two common forms of arrangement may be found in most repositories. One is arrangement that is strictly by provenance. That is, no matter what the form of the record, oral history and oral tradition records are kept with and administered together with all other records from the same source. A collection of oral records from one source may, for instance, become a series within that source's record group or fond. A single oral history interview or oral tradition recording may be no more than a folder or file unit within a series, and may be administered exactly like any other records in that group and series.

The second most common form of arrangement is for an archival institution to create a separate sub-archives for all oral history or oral tradition materials, not unlike separate sub-archives often created for photographic materials or "machine-readable" records. The management of one of these sub-archives is more complex than management of the materials by strict provenance arrangement. Within the sub-archives or "oral history collections" the arrangement is often by provenance, and materials from the same source may be grouped into "collections" or "series" within a collection of related oral source materials.

But, arrangement may also be by a master subject classification, not unlike that employed for books in libraries. Indeed, libraries that have acquired oral history materials often treat them as bibliographic items and classify and catalogue them according to the prevailing bibliographic classification system in use. Furthermore, a basic decision must be made at the outset, even though the special sub-archives has been created to hold oral source materials. There still may be cases in which the overwhelming interest of the material lies more properly with a parent fond of other forms of record, and the integrity of the fond may demand that an item or items remain there. When material is removed from its parent fond and placed elsewhere, whether for preservation with similar physical materials or for inclusion in an oral sources sub-archives, it is essential to prepare cross-reference descriptions for placement in both the original file location and in the new location so that intellectual control by provenance can be maintained. The obvious benefit of the alternative of placing all oral sources together in a sub-archives is that they share many of the same problems of storage, preservation, and reference access, so common procedures can be applied to all such materials by one staff skilled in those procedures and the materials can be stored on shelving and in containers most suitable to their preservation and use.

2.1.8 Transcription

Yet another consideration arising out of the issues of form and arrangement is whether the archival institution should maintain oral records solely in their original sound recording form or "found state," or if all such materials should be transcribed into written form like other principal records. The original sound recording is, of course, the best available record of what occurred in the interview or narration, and it must be considered "the record" properly speaking. One school of thought argues that it is the responsibility of the archivist to maintain that original record, and that the archivist should not further interpose interpretive judgment between the record and the future user by transcribing a text from the sound recording. This argument has much to recommend it. Any step away from the original recording must necessarily sacrifice something of accuracy, fidelity, completeness, and evidential value. Not even the most sophisticated and complex system of written language and symbols is sufficient for absolute fidelity to the original recording. Any transcription must necessarily be something of a translation or interpretation.

Nevertheless, there is another school of thought that requires some consideration. If transcription is done shortly after the interview or recording takes place, if the one who transcribes the recording is well-versed in the topics and subjects that are discussed or narrated, and if the participants in the recording have an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections, then many inevitable errors of ambiguity in the speech recording may be resolved accurately for the benefit of future scholars. It is not uncommon for several different people to hear quite different words when listening to the same ambiguous passage on a recording. When voices overlap, where background noises intrude, or where the speech characteristics of the speaker are not familiar such differences of interpretation are difficult to resolve. It is also argued, with somewhat less force and conviction, that researchers being accustomed to reading instead of listening will more readily use transcripts than tapes, and that tapes should be maintained primarily for resolving ambiguities and uncertainties discovered in transcript texts.

Still another not insignificant consideration for archival management is that transcription is a slow, labour intensive, and therefore expensive process. The transcriber must develop a special knowledge and understanding of the matters in an interview so that specialized terminology will be understood and transcribed properly. Extreme accuracy requires many hours of patient listening, writing (or typing), and correction, often by several different people for the same item. Experience shows that not even the most carefully prepared and proofread transcript is without at least some errors or instances where there may be honest differences of opinion about the proper transcription of at least some words and phrases. In some languages, of course, the ambiguity of spoken language is greater than in others, and a transcript may be essential to discern which of two or three identical spoken words is actually intended. The transcription of oral tradition can also present a particularly thorny problem when archaic words or usages are encountered, or when the tradition has reinterpreted earlier forms of the language in conformity with prevailing usages. [Note that in a related phenomenon, social science survey research has discovered that it is not enough to ask the same question repeatedly over time to achieve the basis for comparative analysis because the very meanings and universe of allusions invoked by specific words change over time, so responses later may have very different significance from earlier ones to the same questions.] his may put a higher premium on transcription, or it may convince archival managers to forego transcription altogether because of costs or the difficulty of assuring accurate transcription.

Archival managers must also be wary of the accuracy of transcriptions arriving in their institutions from other sources. Very often transcripts are done for immediate purposes that have little to do with the very high standards of accuracy and fidelity demanded of an archival institution. The source or agency of transcription should always be identified clearly for all such donated materials so that the archival institution holding them is not held responsible for inaccuracies, and so that researchers may themselves judge the significance of transcribed renderings in light of their provenance.

2.1.9 Preservation

Preservation required for oral source recordings depends on the form of record (magnetic tape, paper, phonograph disk, motion picture film, wire recording, videodisk, etc.). The preservation requirements and methods for these varied forms of oral records are the same as for any other records in the same forms, and the same quality standards should apply. As noted earlier, the better the quality of the original recording, the better will be subsequent reproductions of the record. For this reason, many programmes make two copies of the original tape so that the original may be reserved and not used for further reproduction except in extreme emergencies. Both duplicate copies are made directly from the original, and are as exact and complete reproductions of the original as possible. They are placed on open-reel tape at a fast recording speed, and the tape should meet the specifications detailed elsewhere. One of the two copies is reserved as a "production master" and is used primarily to make further reference use copies in the future. The second copy is used as the first reference copy for use in transcription and general public reference. The original tape should be labelled clearly as "original" and it should be removed to a secure storage location separate from the main archives. The production master should be labelled "production master" and the reference copy should be labelled "reference copy." They should be stored in separate locations so they will not be mistaken for each other or used interchangeably, and so that if one becomes damaged, the other may survive. Many repositories use compact cassettes for the reference copies because of the greater ease in handling, for their relatively lower cost, and because of the protection of the tape from direct handling. Some minor loss of sound quality must, of course, be expected when cassettes are used.

2.2 Receipt and Administrative Control

If oral history and oral tradition materials are received as an integral part of a major records accession, then they are treated as part of that accession. The standard practices of the repository with respect to accessioning and administrative control should apply.

When repositories undertake their own oral history and oral tradition collecting programmes, however, or when separate sub-archives for oral history or oral tradition materials are established, certain additional records and procedures are required for accessioning and administrative control.

2.2.1 Basic Identification

Both intellectual and administrative control require certain basic elements of identification for each oral history and oral tradition basic unit. The basic unit for oral history or oral tradition is the interview session or recording session. The basic unit may be simple or complex. Simple units are composed of one audiotane on which one source is recorded at one particular place and time. Complex basic units may consist of several tapes covering one long recording session with the same respondent/informant, or perhaps several sessions with the same respondent/informant on several different occasions for the same project. The basic unit is defined according to provenance by each unique source, but it may be further defined by time and place of recording session and the project for which recording was done. When an individual recording session is recorded on two or more tapes, the same identifying information applies to all tapes from that session. Tapes from different sessions that are recorded at different times and places with the same respondent or informant will vary in their basic identification with respect to date, place, and perhaps interviewer/researcher.

Unfortunately, records received into an archival institution from other institutions or agencies may lack some or all of the basic information elements. When they do, it is necessary to discover as many of the elements as rapidly as possible for the best chances for good intellectual and administrative control. It is from these basic elements that all other records of receipt and processing can be developed and finding aids developed. Therefore, institutions receiving oral source material from outside agencies should conduct inquiries to learn as many of the elements as possible and as accurately as possible from the creators or creating agency that conducted the project in the first place.

2.2.2 Register of Recordings Received

Since some interviews or oral tradition recordings may be accessioned under their parent record groups, and since some recordings (notably those created by the archival institution itself are accessioned individually and may not be formally accessioned until processing is completed and a corrected transcript approved for deposit, it is prudent archival management to have a register of recordings received into the institution or oral sources sub-archive. The register is a consecutive record of each interview or recording session brought into the archives, and it is the means by which a receipt serial number or control number is assigned to each item to identify it and track it throughout processing and future use. The register should contain sufficient information to distinguish the recording unit from all others and to provide summary data for reports on receipts and production over time.

When the receipt serial number is assigned it should also be recorded on the tape containers and in the main file of correspondence. Upon receipt and on completion of the necessary basic information and register entry, each tape received should be placed in a file of tapes awaiting processing. The arrangement of tapes should be in receipt serial number order so the next tape selected for processing is the oldest one in the file. Tapes brought into the oral sources sub-archives from other record groups for processing or permanent administration should be handled in the same manner except that their parent record group, series, and file location should be noted on the tape container and receipt register.

2.3 Processing the Record

There are many degrees of processing that may be applied to oral history and oral tradition record units. For purposes of this study three representative levels have been selected and they are described below, but readers should understand that there are many intermediate levels and that the three levels described are not mutually exclusive. Archivists may choose to process only to the first level described, to the second, to the third, all three, or combinations and intermediate stages between, depending on local requirements and resources. Decisions can be made on the basis of needs of researchers and archivists as well as on economy of local resources.

2.3.1 Preservation Processing and Minimum Description

The basic identification elements provide initial description of each basic record unit, but to be effective they must be complete and of confirmed accuracy. Further, a modest amount of preservation processing should take place and a summary description of the unit information contents is needed before the unit is ready for reference use. The following steps are necessary to initial preservation and minimal description.

1) The tape or tapes of a single recording session (record unit) must be taken from the file of received tapes and the basic information elements must be checked for accuracy and completeness. Errors and omissions should be corrected at this time if at all possible.
2) The tape is then copied onto two additional tapes (or sets of tapes in the case of multiple-tape units). The best means is through the use of a real-time copier that can produce several copies simultaneously so that there is only one running of the original tape; however, any available means of copying will suffice. Care must be taken to assure that the playback portion of the machinery is not placed in the "RECORD" mode or position so as to avoid erasure (wiping) of the original. When copying is completed, each tape should be identified with the same information that is on the original tape (basic identification elements and receipt serial number, and when appropriate the parent record group identification). The original tape should also be marked "original" and retired to a safe remote storage location. One copy should be labelled "production master" and reserved elsewhere in the archives for use in future copying. The other copy should be marked "reference copy" and placed in receipt serial number order in a file of tapes awaiting further processing.
3) The reference copy of the tape or tapes is then listened to and a brief narrative summary of the entire contents of the recording unit is drafted, reviewed, and prepared in approved final copy. In the absence of further processing, this brief summary must stand as the basic finding aid to that particular record unit, so it must be completely representative and yet as concise as possible. The basic identification elements and receipt serial number should be added to this narrative, either as a heading, or as an appendix depending on local preference.

The record unit may at this point be considered "processed" through the minimum level necessary for reasonable administrative, intellectual, and reference control. However, it is also necessary at this point to separate those record units having restrictions from those that may be opened to research without restriction. Restricted tapes and summaries should be placed in a separate, secure, storage location within the archives, and their locations should be noted by a reference to the receipt serial number in the main correspondence file and in other processing files and records kept by the institution.

2.3.2 Schedule of Contents

In order to avoid the lengthy delays and high costs of transcription, many oral history and oral tradition programmes prepare a sequential list of topics covered on each tape. This may be a very simple list of topics in the sequential order of their occurrence on the tape, or it may also be keyed to a time schedule of the playing of the tape to suggest the approximate location of each subject on the tape. In some more sophisticated processing procedures a dual track tape may be used, with a standard time signal entered onto one track while the other track carries the basic recording. In this way the keying of content descriptions can be more precisely matched to locations on the tapes for ready reference. Of course, a stereophonic (two-track) playback machine is essential to make effective use of this device.

2.3.3 Transcription

Transcription is the highest level of processing for sound recordings. It requires highly concentrated, skilled, and patient work to produce a reliable written text that is very faithful to the spoken words as recorded and yet that is very readable. It is much harder to understand speech when one cannot see the speaker and when one is not engaged in direct conversation with that speaker. Dialects, archaisms, changes in voice levels, imperfect pronunciations, interruptions, the overriding of voices speaking simultaneously, background noises, internal machine noise of the recording or playback equipment, poor quality of sound on the tape, and other factors all contribute to frustrate precise and accurate translation of spoken language into written language. Furthermore, spoken language often does not obey the grammatical structure or punctuation of written language, and transcribers must be innovative in sentence structure and paragraphing in order to maintain fidelity to the original and yet maintain readability. The transcriber does not have, however, the freedom of the reporter to comprehend the gist and intent of a statement and to translate what is actually said into what clearly was meant or intended. The transcriber must write down precisely what was said, with little or no interpretation beyond punctuation and paragraphing. The very placement of a comma in a sentence can change the meaning, so a transcriber must be very, very careful.

Therefore, transcribing should not be undertaken unless a programme has the resources to do it well, or unless the ultimate use of the recording absolutely requires a transcript. Moreover, both programme managers and future users must understand that a transcript is actually only a highly sophisticated finding aid to the true record, which is the tape itself.

It is preferable that transcription take place soon after the recording so that participants in the recording may be appeared to for clarification where transcription may be uncertain and the tape itself ambiguous. It is also an advantage if those who do the transcription are themselves well-educated in the topics of discussion so that they recognize and identify and can transcribe properly any specialized terminology and references to obscure names.

The basic process of transcribing appears deceptively simple. A person listens to a tape while simultaneously writing down or typing what is heard, verbatim, including representation of non-verbal exclamations and interjections, notations of intrusions, laughter, coughing, sneezing, and so forth. Occasionally when there is something like music on the tape in the midst of a narrative recitation, the transcriber may have to identify the tune or the song being sung, or perhaps to annotate its tune by title or analogy rather than in musical notes. Most transcription is done in typewritten copy, but some more sophisticated programmes are beginning to use electronic word processors (personal or small business computers) because of the capability of making corrections rapidly before print-out copy is prepared.

Since transcription is an uncertain process, each draft transcript should be reviewed by at least one person other than the transcriber. Difficult recordings may require several reviews. The reviewer (or "editor") is actually a proofreader who listens to the tape and makes corrections to the draft transcript in order to make it as faithful a representation of the spoken words as possible. When this review is completed, the transcript must be identified with the basic identification elements for that record unit, including the receipt serial number and the identification of the parent record qroup where appropriate.

2.4 Tape or Transcript Review

2.4.1 Oral History

Many oral history programmes offer the people who have been interviewed an opportunity to review the tape or transcript prior to formal donation of the item and accessioning into the archives. There are several reasons offered to justify this policy. The person interviewed may have insisted on the right of review as a condition of agreement to being interviewed. There may be omissions in the interview that the respondent, upon further reflection, may want to add as an appendix or in follow-up interviewing. There may be transcriber errors, ambiguities, or omissions in a transcript that the respondent may be able to correct or remedy. It is also believed to offer the respondent an opportunity to be more thoughtful and complete about the quality and validity of the testimony presented in the record.

Some who practice oral history are vigorously opposed to this practice. They insist that the integrity of the original record is important and that it is compromised by any such review since the respondent may wish to revise objectionable or infelicitous parts. Some people, also, are appalled at the peculiar quality of their spoken composition because it compares so unfavorably with carefully crafted written prose, and this may sour them on the whole process of oral history and discourage further cooperation with the programme.

There is also some difference of opinion among oral historians about the corrected transcript. Some programmes retype the transcript entirely, incorporating the respondent's corrections. Others maintain the first typewritten transcript with the handwritten changes of the respondent. History and total accuracy doubtless argue for the latter as the preferable document, and archivists would agree that such an item is the best written record of the meaning and intent of the respondent. It permits the reader of a transcript to discover places of ambiguity or uncertainty and to concentrate attention on those areas in listening to the audiotape for better understanding and interpretation.

2.4.2 Oral Tradition

Oral traditions are sometimes recorded in remote villages and often among people for whom a transcript review would be meaningless. It may also be that at the end of a field trip there is little prospect of returning to the area of recording. In such cases it becomes imperative to review the recording soon after the recording has taken place and to thrash out with informants any ambiguities, archaisms, or points of detail. As these corrections and emendations will likely be in the form of written notes by the researcher/collector, they should form part of the record and be explanatory to the tape recording as well as to any transcript of the recording.

2.5 Accessioning

By commonly accepted archival standards, accessioning is the act of achieving both physical custody and legal dominion and control over records so that the archival institution becomes not only keeper but also owner, administrator, and arbiter of use of the materials acquired. In oral history and oral tradition materials, as may be the case with certain other records and often is with personal manuscripts taken into an archival institution, accessioning may be conditional. The institution may agree, as a condition of acquiring the material, to administer it according to certain laws and regulations of the parent government or agency of origin, or to terms and conditions expressed by the agency, institution, or person that transferred the materials to the repository for permanent deposit and administration. As noted previously, when oral source material is brought into an archival institution as an integral part of a record group that includes a variety of kinds of materials, the accessioning of the whole incoming body of material covers all its parts, including the oral material, and no further accessioning action should be required unless there is uncertainty about the transferring agency's rights and title to the material in the first place.

When oral recordings are acquired independently of other transfers or donations, as in cases where archival institutions themselves do the interviewing or recording, acquiring the material consists of two quite separate acts. One is the physical acquisition of the real property of the recorded tape. This is done by accomplishing the recording by an employee of the archival institution and the return of the tape to that institution for deposit and processing. The second step is an agreement between the person or persons recorded and the institution, in which formal donation of the intellectual content of the recording is documented. This transfer agreement varies widely in character and practice. It may be a relatively simple act, incorporated orally into the recording itself, in which the intent to donate is spoken and recorded at the beginning or end of the interview or narration. However, it may be that local customs or laws may require a much more formal documentation such as a written deed to establish the donation of both real and intangible property to the institution.

In any case, the prudent archival manager must be satisfied that the institution is fully entitled to exercise control over the recording before it is accessioned. The accessioning may be conditional, as noted, and a condition of accessioning may require seal or restriction of the recording, or parts of it, for a time according to law or to the wishes of the respondent. But, so long as the conditions are clear and according to local law, they should not impede accessioning.

Once documentation of the transfer is established satisfactorily, the material may be added to the regular accession register of the institution, just like any other accession. Normally, all recording sessions with one person or from one source are accessioned as a unit by provenance. Therefore, a single accession may be represented by several receipt serial numbers in the records of the institution. If a group of recordings collected by another agency is brought into the archives under a single transfer agreement, all those interviews or recordings should be regarded as one accession, even though there might be rrany individual interviews or recordings in the whole body of material received.

It should also be mentioned that when oral tradition material is recorded, the informants may be unable to comprehend the issues of intellectual ownership and content as distinct from the physical property of the recording. It may be and often is assumed that consent to record implies donation of both the physical property (where appropriate) and the intellectual content to the person doing the recording or to the institution sponsoring the project. In practice, this issue is rarely raised with oral tradition informants. However, there have been occasions on which well-organized and relatively sophisticated ethnic groups, realizing the benefits that may accrue to the group producing the oral tradition for the record, require that any proceeds from the sales of books or other works dependent upon the recording should be shared in by the group or by its representative council or other responsible agency acting for the group.


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