The assumption that working with oral histories requires transcription first is one we have been examining for years through our practice of digital indexing. Transcriptions can be a powerful resource to accompany recordings, but we choose to approach oral history analysis differently.
With the availability of database-driven models for oral history content management, we start with summary annotations and create indexes, and work from there. Selective or full transcription is always an option, and in the meantime, summary-passage architecture for content management is an efficient and functional way to engage oral history recordings. In addition, the resulting text can be less dense than a transcription, more contextually meaningful, and still be suitable for all sorts of publications and for further development.
In a nutshell, we respond to the “unexamined assumption” with another question:
Does it make sense to transcribe everything you have so you can find the few passages you really want? Or does it make more sense to index a collection first and then transcribe what you need when you need it?
For us, the latter makes more sense and this is where digital indexing begins.