Swansea University offers students a chance to gain experience working with staff through the Week of Work scheme. In March this year, two undergraduate students began working with Dr Chris Millington on a research project concerning a member of the Free French, Hilaire Marteau, who settled in Liverpool after the war. The project aims to reconstruct the wartime experience of Marteau from the diaries and notes that he left following his death as well as from interviews with his surviving family. Students Charlotte Hills and Joe Robins transcribed these interviews during their Week of Work placement. They describe below why they wanted to take part in the project.
My name is Charlotte Hills and I am a second year undergraduate history and politics student. I have had an interest in Second World War history since I was young, and to a large extent this is what encouraged me to undertake a history degree. Having received an email about a unique opportunity with a lot of experience with a primary source, in the form of listening to and transcribing interviews, I decided to apply. As the position was open to undergraduates as well as postgraduates I was pleased but also surprised when I was asked to attend an interview. I drew upon my previous recent experience working in my local museum, describing and cataloguing Anglo-Saxon tools, when writing my application, and this demonstration of my attention to detail, along with my enthusiasm for the project helped me succeed in securing the placement.
Listening to the transcriptions is first and foremost the best part of the placement. It is very rare to have such a unique opportunity to listen to a first-person account of someone’s life. However, the transcriptions bring their own challenges: covering five minutes of an interview will take me roughly an hour which to keep a steady progress requires about six hours work each week. This can be tough to schedule with my other responsibilities, however, I am enjoying challenging my time management abilities. It can also be confusing when natural patterns of speech occur; such as, people interrupting each other, long pauses and changing topic halfway through a sentence. This is what is time consuming as I need to be sure each word I’m transcribing is accurate and this is especially hard when places and street names are used out of context. Nonetheless, it is easy to lose track of time listening to an interesting account of such a fascinating story. Based on my experience so far with the CRAM project, I would not hesitate to apply for something similar in the future as well as encouraging anyone else to do so.
I am a second year and studying History. I wanted to try something different in an area which I had an interest. The Second World War is one of my favourite areas of history, and this project enabled me to delve into aspects of which I have never come across until now. It also provided something different to degree work which is a nice change.
As I study History this opportunity situated itself in that field but I have no other transcribing experience. This was in fact one of the reasons I wanted to apply to take part in this research project as it enabled me to gain experience rather than apply previous experiences. Other than this, due to the nature of my course and previous employment, sticking to deadlines and having an eye for detail are all applicable for this project.
Transcribing is a long process but I have felt what I am listening to to be quite interesting. It is very time consuming but nonetheless quite rewarding all the same. Difficulties arise in making sure my prose is readable and presentable, and also in listening to the individuals as to make it as accurate as possible. Certain phrases are hard to hear but you have to do your best to get around this and continue. We overcome this by highlighting hard-to-hear speech and handing over to another set of ears to gather their interpretation of it.