Resource of the Month: ICA-PAAG Concise Guide series - Guide 8: The transcription as an archival document

For this month resource of the month, we wanted to highlight the 8th guide in the Concise Guide series from PAAG (the Photographic and Audiovisual Archives Working Group) 

This resource is available in English, Catalan, and Spanish for ICA members.  

We have written a brief summary of this resource giving you an idea of its content as well as the reason why it was chosen. 

Resource Summary  

Why have we selected it? 

The text is newly published, so selecting it as Resource of the Month is a good opportunity to highlight both the text and the wider series of guides that it is part of. 

What you will find in this resource? 

The latest addition to the series of 8 short guides by the ICA-PAAG (Photographic and Audiovisual Archives Group). The project, initiated in 2013-2014 under the direction of Joan Boadas i Raset and funded by PCOM, aims to create short guides covering different aspects of the managing of photographic and audiovisual materials. The series is multi-authored, with authors from Spain, Italy and France, and covers both methodological concerns/techniques to be deployed by existing institutions, as well as institutional approaches for institutions establishing themselves in the field. Topics covered by the first 7 guides in the series include: Digital Image Archive; Digital Video Archive; Management of Photographic Repositories; Long term preservation of digital media files; Software for image management; Colours management for digitisation projects; Managing Photographic Heritage. Collectively, the guides cover analogue records, born digital records and digitised analogue records. Each guide contains a detailed bibliography and webliography, or refers widely to other resources in the text. 

Guide 8 attempts to elucidate what is a transcription made from sound and audio-visual documents, how important it is in an archive, what general guidelines must be taken into account to create a transcription guide, and what are the possibilities of current technology in relation to automatic transcription. It was written by Sandra Orihuela in the context of a final Master's dissertation at the Graduate School of Archival and Records Management (ESAGED), and is available in English, Catalan, and Spanish. The guide was translated into English by Salvatore D'Errico, whose work is focused on the valorisation of the oral history programmes at the Historical Archives of the European Union.

Chosen extracts from the resource:  

“The transcriptions discussed in this guide are those originating from sound and audio-visual documents; those texts that copy into a written form what has previously been stated orally. The challenges presented by this type of transcription have to do with the transition from oral language to written language, with the change of medium and code in documents in which both form and content are relevant.”   

The guide explores several questions: “- What exactly is a transcription and how important is it in an archive? - Can it be considered as just a copy of an original document? - Is there a universal and correct way to transcribe? - How can those elements that are typical of orality be put into words? - Can the transcriptionist’s intervention have any effect on the final document? - Is it possible to replace the manual transcription with an automatic transcription?” It answers these questions, and analyses what a transcription is, “what transcribing means in the context of an archival institution, which general guidelines must be considered, and what are the possibilities of current technology in relation to automatic transcription.” 

It emphasises that transcriptions are archival records, with particular uses as sources by researchers. “Although it is the original document that has ultimate proof and evidence value” […], “the transcription becomes the main reference that is consulted to produce evidence.” […] “In general, the original document is the sound and audio-visual document. However, its written version can be much more practical for study and analysis. A corrected and indexed transcription not only facilitates conservation, preservation and access, but can also add value by clarifying ambiguous passages and correcting possible errors in names, places, dates, etc. Yet, it must be noted that transcriptions can also entail some inconvenience; above all, the loss of part of the information included in the recording, since not all the characteristics of oral discourse can be translated into writing.” […] 

“The transcription must be able to transfer, as much as possible, those characteristics of oral and gestural language into written language, which has its own code and is insufficient to recreate everything that is present in the original recording.” […] “There is not a single way of doing transcriptions; each institution must decide what to prioritise and which elements should be turned into words and, from there, designate which notation system is going to be adopted, and what information is kept.” 

The guide identifies three broad types of transcription, arguing that whichever approach is chosen is of little consequence, as “the ultimate goal is to obtain a written text allowing a clear understanding of what happened and has been recorded. The resulting document must be both faithful and understandable. Whatever perspective is taken as a starting point, the transcription must represent what is heard, or what is heard and seen, clearly and with respect to what is found in the sound or audio-visual document.” […] “Every decision about what to keep or what to delete or what symbol to use is an interpretive intervention, that is, a way of mediating between the original document and the researcher who consults it at a later stage.” […] 

“Transcribing, therefore, is not a neutral practice. It always involves a point of view, a perspective that interprets and constructs the story, which is eventually going to be read by someone else. It is based on decisions that, on many occasions, can be taken in an unconscious way. The key is to act responsibly before these interpretive decisions, which are inevitable, but also necessary, are taken. In this sense, it is advisable to define from the beginning what methodology the institution is going to follow to perform transcriptions, while being transparent about it, and providing the users with guidelines.” 


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