Voice as a Powerful Primary Source

As the Overhills project comes to a close, I spend my time organizing files, editing the report, planning its distribution and doing the last few weeks of work and necessary communication that comes with closing a project. I have catalogued over 700 photographs from Overhills, and most of the time I feel it is sewn into my memory. How could I possibly squeeze one more Overhills fact into my brain? Yet this past week we have added two new interviews (i.e. more facts, stories, and memories), one of them a second interview and one a new interviewee that we had never able to find during the interviewing phase.

Prior to this week, the last of the 30+ interviews took place in January 2008. I hadn’t transcribed an interview in its entirety in just as long. This project phase of writing and editing brought me to view Overhills in another angle, in a more reflective, analytical way. Yet now that I am transcribing a few more hours of Overhills stories and memories, I return to that first world of Overhills that I entered.  Listening to these interviews I am reminded of everyone’s love for Overhills and of how this place truly was their home or second home. Listening and transcribing has that effect. I am studying someone’s words, the tone of his voice, and actually seeing what he is saying. It is in his words, spoken and then transcribed, that I am drawn back to Overhills, to the buildings, the people, the day to day life, and the voices that I’ve met and become familiar with throughout this project.  It’s a comfortable world that I’m visiting; I know the peoples and places to which my interviewee refers and I’m content to listen, type, and absorb.

And while I can’t say that, in the past, I have made an effort to pay attention to the audio exhibits at historic sites and in museums, I can say now that if you want to truly understand a place or an event, the best thing to do is to listen to a primary source. A few minutes of an authentic voice sharing history with you, the listener and learner, and you’ll be transported to the scene in history. Reading a transcript or reading an exhibit display does not compare to audio of an oral history project.  The next time I want to truly visit a historic site, event, or landscape, I will eagerly consider the audio tour or exhibit that features audio recordings.

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