Flexibility and Mobility: Interviewing in D.C., Transcriptions, and Emerging Themes

So I’m off to the big city! This afternoon (in 1 1/2 hours actually), I’ll be going to Washington, D.C. for a few days to conduct a couple interviews with alumni, one who graduated in 2017 and another who graduated in 1973.

Because William & Mary’s alumni live across the country and across the world, I have had to be a logistic juggler to organize some of my interviews. While relying on the kindness of some friends who are driving me to D.C. and letting me crash on their couch, I will be traveling around the D.C. area to talk with a couple alumni, while also continuing to work on the transcriptions from previous interviews. I am also working to line up a couple interviews via video chat. While these type of interviews are not my favorite, this process has taught be to be flexible and to be creative in accomplishing my goals, because when your research primarily involves people, you must be ready for anything.

Additionally, I finished my first transcript. I would say transcribing the 1 hour 18 minute interview took me approximately 10-12 hours, but I noticed myself working much faster near the end of it. I have sent it off to my advisor to check over and am currently working on the next transcript, which I hope to finish up in the next few days. While transcribing has been tedious, it has helped me to see parts of the interview that I missed while conducting it, and once again, I am getting fast and better at transcribing the more that I do it.

Some themes seem to be popping up as I have conducted my interviews. I have noticed the difference in how queer individuals who graduated within the last 5-10 years and how those who graduated over 30 years ago talk about being queer. There is a vocabulary and a mindset of speaking that current graduates have, including certain specific terms like “gender fluid” and making disclaimers when talking about race if one is white, that individuals of older generations do not seem to use. Also, my experience with younger graduates has been that they seem to answer questions in a more organized way, while older alumni jump to different subjects and talk about different topics not directly related to the question. I think this may result from younger grads having residue of that academic mindset, while older grads have moved on to a different way of speaking and thinking about their past. In addition, it has been fascinating to see what interviewees focus on, when I ask certain questions, which gives me a deeper insight to themselves as people and how their experiences have shaped them – one of the reasons that I believe oral history is such an important mode of historical research.

As I have said, I am letting my interviewees determine the thematic arc of my research, so I am looking forward to seeing what more they share with me, and I am hoping for a successful trip to D.C.