Reflections from the WSM Archive by Isabelle Haines

September 4, 2021
Reflections from the WSM Archive by Isabelle Haines

Isabelle Haines joined our staff this summer as our Community Stories Project Intern to help us develop standards and best practices for our small but growing community archive. It was a joy to support her internship and we are so grateful for all her work!

One of the major projects I worked on during my summer internship with Window Seat Media was editing and reformatting the Third Thirty transcripts. The changes I made were pretty minor — things like incorporating narrator clarifications, adding page numbers to the bottom right corner of each document, and inserting commas into long strings of speech. Editing transcripts is a tedious process, but it turns out that I am a nerd for the English language, and maybe a bit of a snoop, which is a pretty good combination of characteristics for the task. What I never could have anticipated was how emotionally affecting it would be to comb through each transcript.  

Reading and/or listening to each narrator’s life story was an immersive, frequently delightful experience. But occasionally, I felt like a trespasser wading into deeply personal territory. I was not prepared for the vulnerability that each narrator brought to their interview. With unflinching honesty, they discussed the Great Depression, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, misogyny, racism, class divide, art, music, unplanned pregnancy, parenthood, curtailed ambitions, loneliness, joys and tragedies of all sorts. I trailed behind, adding in commas and periods.

Adding minor grammatical structure to cadenced speech may be a necessary part of the transcription process, but it felt inconsequential in the face of the humanity and candor of the Third Thirty interviews. More than anything else, reviewing the transcripts filled me with admiration for the narrators, the interviewers, and the oral historians who make this their life’s work.

Interning with Window Seat Media has been an absolute delight! I want to thank Elaine for giving me this opportunity and for being so gracious and helpful. I am so proud to have been a part of this organization, if only for a summer!