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Exploring Transcription, Oral History's Oxymoron

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Columbia University, Knox Hall

606 W 122nd Street

New York, NY 10027

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Exploring Transcription, Oral History’s Oxymoron, Carlin Zia

Transcription is one of the greatest paradoxes of our field. Especially for those who’ve experienced the magic of fieldwork, the affective power of orality and the live interview, it can be easy to criticize transcripts as at best insufficient and/or at worst a kind of violation. Grappling with our earnest theoretical attentions to voice and authority and all the non-verbal communications that transpire in an interview, we can find ourselves frozen, asking: How can we possibly put oral history on the page?

In this workshop we will consider this would-be paralyzing rhetorical question as a real and generative one by first surveying the field’s current transcription landscape, including popular technologies and a range of styles guides/best practices. Then we’ll get our hands on some interviews and experiment with how variously we can animate the same material by transcribing it in different forms and/or with different intentions. We’ll look at (and then play with!) poetry, film, erasure and silence and white space, participatory/non-linear presentations, multi-vocal collections, and other examples, and discuss the challenges and possibilities of each, independently and within the context of larger project designs.

Let’s banish the idea of transcription as a necessary evil, and instead embrace its creative potential to drive this work. Instead of regretting all that’s lost in transcription, let’s see what can be gained through form.

Carlin Zia is a recent graduate of OHMA and current Teaching Apprentice with the program. Her thesis, an epic poem in an invented form, records the life story of her Chinese-born grandfather while simultaneously charting her own project of self-historicization within that inter-generational and inter-cultural context. Carlin came to OHMA from a literature background, having graduated with distinction in English from Yale College. She brought with her a love of words and narrative and writing, and diversified her languages at Columbia to include more audio/visual mediums. She has since freelanced as a film editor (for Facing Whiteness, a collaboration between Columbia’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and the documentarian Whitney Dow, creator of the “Whiteness Project”) and videographer. Carlin plans to continue her own oral history practice in the pursuit of a PhD in Ethnic and American Studies.

*For our oral history workshops, please pay what you can. We suggest $30 for students, recent graduates, or others who are financially constrained, while we suggest that professionals and those with more resources should pay more. All profits from these events go towards our annual merit scholarship for an OHMA student. Please note that OHMA applicants can get their admission fee waived if they attend a workshop.

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Columbia University, Knox Hall

606 W 122nd Street

New York, NY 10027

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Refund Policy

Refunds up to 7 days before event

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