Michigan State University

Summer 2019 Seed Grant Funding Report

Submitted by Autumn Painter and A.L. McMichael

The primary goal of this project is to span best practices in oral history research and archaeology, while promoting the public outreach missions of both Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) and MSU. The project began with a series of interviews with the founder of CAP, Dr. Lynne Goldstein, followed by the creation of an accessible, public-facing web presence from which to share the oral history and media documentation of twelve years of CAP. The DH@MSU Seed Grant funded the project team’s research assistant to transcribe the audio interviews for better accessibility.

This project draws on the researchers’ existing collaborations at MSU: A.L. McMichael is the Director of LEADR (The Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research) and a DH@MSU Core Faculty member. The lab is part of the History and Anthropology departments, and its mission is to incorporate digital methods into the curricula of these two disciplines for student research. Autumn Painter is a PhD candidate in Anthropology, the current Campus Archaeologist, and a former Graduate Assistant in LEADR. This project utilizes the contexts that are unique to working in these two disciplines. The timing of this project coincides with Professor Lynne Goldstein’s retirement from MSU in 2018. Her contributions to CAP and to archaeology in the larger sense are well summarized by her faculty page on the Department of Anthropology website:

“Dr. Goldstein retired from MSU in August 2018 and now holds emerita status. At Michigan State, she developed and led the University’s innovative Campus Archaeology Project, persuading University leaders and grounds people alike that documenting the campus’s history through archaeological investigation was a valuable and significant undertaking. As Lynne has frequently advised, one should never undertake research without clear research questions, and in addition to providing countless students with field training and community engagement opportunities (as well as financial support), her work on the MSU campus has contributed significantly to the study of 19th and 20th century midwestern US history and the growth and significance of US land grant universities. An early and enthusiastic adopter of new technologies, she also has played a critical role in the expansion of digital humanities initiatives in archaeology. She is a generous teacher and mentor, with an uncanny ability to cut through academic jargon and pomposity to help her students identify big questions and address them rigorously and clearly.”

As researchers, we realized that her stories and experiences are an important part of the program, and recording them would be a lasting contribution to the history of MSU. We also use this project to argue more broadly that oral history and archaeology are a natural pairing in terms of both methodologies and topics. As researchers, we are uniquely poised to explore this via CAP and LEADR.

This project can serve as a case study for similar programs wherein oral history may serve as both valuable “grey literature” in recording unpublished archaeological data, as well as outreach to wider publics. Field notes, white papers, and informal data recordings are all important aspects of archaeological digs and projects that don’t necessarily carry the same “weight” as monographs; yet, they offer insight into the social and historical contexts of the archaeologists themselves. Blogs are one type of public-facing work that incorporates the of-the-moment and personal perspectives of archaeologists into the disseminated record of a dig or project. We argue that oral histories are another genre of publication that should augment traditional publications in recording the historiography of archaeological projects, teams, and sites.

Methodology

We would like to emphasize that this is still a work in progress as of Fall 2019. However, the website is public and we will roll out new features as the work progresses. The public-facing web presence is at this URL: http://oralhistory.campusarch.msu.edu/ We divided the interviews into “chapters” in order to break the data into smaller sections and allow listeners to engage with sections that appeal to them. The website is part of CAP’s web presence, which is hosted by Matrix.

In terms of interview methodology, the audio interviews were recorded in LEADR’s A/V studio. We had three microphones: a Zoom Handy Mic used in fieldwork, a Yeti desk microphone, and a backup on Autumn’s iPhone. We used open source Audacity software on a laptop to record and edit the data.

Rather than trying to capture all of Lynne’s stories at once, we scheduled several conversations to speak with her in person. We started with a list of broad categories that seemed pertinent to historical research, and left the interview questions open-ended enough that Lynne could help shape the narrative. Some example research questions include these:

● “Start with a little bit about the origins or the beginnings of Campus Archaeology here at MSU.”
● “What makes MSU ideal for this particular type of program?”
● “Have there been any favorite projects or projects that stand out to you?”
● “Can you give us an overview of the kinds of archaeological jobs that people have gotten after participating in CAP?”

After completing the interviews, we edited the raw audio in Audacity. We also recorded scripted ledes to introduce each section. We gave these sections titles using the metaphor of chapters and divided some into shorter parts to facilitate navigation and give listeners more opportunities to dip in and out of the project. Edited audio files are saved as .wav files. At the beginning of our project, we contacted MSU Archives about long-term stewardship. Since then, the relationship of Archives and the Library has changed. The audio is currently hosted on MediaSpace and we will restart conversations with the Library about stewardship.

Accessibility

It was important to us to make the project accessible, and for the data to be available in multiple kinds of media: audio and text, augmented with photos from the CAP records. A major aspect of this project was creating a web presence that is as accessible as possible. The actions we took to make the project website can and should be applied whenever possible to all digital projects. Each web image has alt-text, which is a brief description that screen readers can convey. We also created a link to a text-only version of the interactive timeline on the website so that people who cannot see the media are able to receive the content in chronological order. Finally, all of the hyperlinks were created as descriptive phrases, rather than generic “click here” to ensure that each one is unique. Most importantly for accessibility the DH@MSU Seed Grant provided funding for research assistant to generate and edit transcriptions of the audio interviews for accessibility.

Research assistant Amber Plemmons is a PhD student in Anthropology and member of CAP. It was great to have a research assistant who is knowledgeable about the program but removed from the interview process. She had a fresh perspective to help in transcribing the audio from one medium to another. Amber started with the automated captions in MediaSpace and edited those while listening to the interviews. She was funded for 25 hours of work, thanks to the seed grant, and she used the entire amount of time. Autumn and A.L. will now produce a “next pass” on the transcripts to get a consistent and final edition of the text.

Transcription Editing: Further Considerations

Best practice in editing transcriptions is not definitively established. Notably, there are variations in style among guidelines, especially regarding the copy editing of verbal tics or representing in text the noises, pauses, and speech patterns of individual speakers. For instance, historian Susan Emily Allen insists on replicating the speech patterns directly (“the content of the transcript must quote the content of the tape.”[1] She provides some practical suggestions for copy editing such as ellipses when a speaker does not complete a thought, and extra information in brackets if the speaker’s dialect or phrasing may need clarification for a listener/reader. She argues against editing for “clarity” and insists on a literal transcription.

Style guides vary, however. Baylor University has a thorough style guide (based largely on the Chicago Manual of Style) with criteria for copy editing transcriptions, and suggestions such as M-dash for incomplete sentences (rather than ellipses).[2] The Oral History Association’s “Web Guides to Doing Oral History” is a useful roundup of guidelines for best practice (among them, the “Oral History in the Digital Age,” resource developed by MATRIX here at MSU).[3]

While most of these guidelines pertain to maintaining the integrity of the interview when it is translated from one form (audio) to another (written text), one of the lingering questions we have for this project pertains to the way screen readers pick up various punctuation-based editing, and ways that the voice of the narrator may or may not be conveyed in transcripts. It is also pertinent to consider who might use the research in the future: both the original interviews and a screen reader provide an audio experience, and with a written transcript available DH researchers could also do text analysis. One of the next tasks we have is to actually listen to the transcript through a screen reader and determine whether that translation is able to maintain the integrity of the interviews as well. We will continue to conduct research pertaining to accessibility and transcription of oral histories or conversations through reading secondary literature or case studies. The plan is to develop a style guide to use for editing these transcripts that can be used more broadly for oral history of archaeology transcriptions.

Broader Implications of the Project

Archaeological field notes are not always consistent or inclusive of all pertinent information. They also do not usually include origins of programs or projects companies. This oral history records important information about the Campus Archaeology Program that has not been extensively documented until now. It also shows the larger impact of CAP on the University. 

As a case study for the reception of this kind of oral history within archaeology, Autumn presented this project as a poster at the Midwest Archaeological Conference in October 2019. She fielded a number of questions about the project, and had a steady stream of inquiries during the two-hour poster session. Based on this positive feedback, we remain committed to our argument that oral histories are another genre of publication that should augment traditional publications in recording the historiography of archaeological projects, teams, and sites.


[1] Susan Emily Allen, “Resisting the Editorial Ego: Editing Oral History.” The Oral History Review 10 (1982): 33-45, see esp. 42. http://www.jstor.org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/stable/3674907.

[2] “Style Guide: A Quick Reference for Editing Oral History Transcripts,” Baylor University Institute for Oral History, 2018. https://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory/index.php?id=931752

[3] “Web Guides to Doing Oral History,” Oral History Association. August 2012. https://www.oralhistory.org/web-guides-to-doing-oral-history/

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