Visualizing Oral History

This is a visualization (created with wordle) of an oral history transcript of the History Truck’s first interview in East Kensington between new EK resident Rachel and me.  I chose to put the entire transcript into the visualization, including the numbers for time, to see a relfexive moment in process of archiving oral history.  What is interesting to me is that the timing does not even appear because the numbers consistently change.  What was very exciting for me to see was the difference in scale between the initials RK and EB, RK being the interviewee and EB being me.  I was firstly happy to see my initials were smaller than Rachael’s, but it was also impressive to see how strongly Rachael dominated the conversation.  There was a time when I struggled with understanding who should be listed as the author or oral histories because there is a shared authority in creating them, but in seeing the visualization made it clear to me that the interview subject could be fairly listed as the author.

ImageThe frequency of terms “Uhm,” “Yeah,” “just,” and “like” were not surprising, but I am glad they were highlighted because oral history transcripts should demonstrate how people actually spoke and phrased things.  What was most interesting for me as a historian looking at my conversation with Rachael were our other buzz terms, such as “people” “community” “think” “right” “neighborhood” “block” “need” “little” and “different.”  I think once I compile more transcripts in wordle to create visualizations, I will have a better understanding of buzz words in terms of neighborhood demographics or even timing of the interview (early in the process as opposed to later).  I see that there could be potential utility in using oral history visualizations in exhibition, but also to compare across History Truck neighborhoods to see if buzz terms shift by neighborhood or current events, etc.  I also think it could be interesting to visualize curatorial statements by public historians from different museums and time period to see if buzz words in the field depend on place and space.