New York City Trans Oral History Project
Reviewed by: Rachel Dixon, Elena Abou Mrad, Faihaa Khan, and Brianna Caszatt
Review started: February 15, 2021
Review finished: April 11, 2021
- Project site: https://www.nyctransoralhistory.org/
- New York Public Library (NYPL) site: https://wayback.archive-it.org/14173/20200910174503/http://oralhistory.nypl.org/neighborhoods/trans-history
Data and Sources
- Public, recorded interviews with trans, gender non-binary, and gender non-conforming people from New York City (NYC)—for anyone who identifies as such and is a sometime resident of NYC
- Interviews date from 2016 to 2020; lengths range from 30 minutes to 3 hours
- Recorded and uploaded to the NYPL server
- Flagged for triggering, controversial, or delicate material
- Provided with metadata and a summary (only some of them)
- Transcribed (179 out of 195)
- Tagged according to content (by users)
- Displayed on a homepage in alphabetical order with a photo of the interviewee
- Website describing the project, including information on how to participate as an interviewer or interviewee
- Website that has been archived via Archive-It, previously published on NYPL site, with audio recordings, transcriptions of the audio recordings, and interviewee-supplied metadata
- NYPL project landing page links to individual page for each interviewee with their source materials
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- Information not prominently displayed on sites
- Websites presented only in English
- Interviews in English, Spanish, or both
The organizers of the New York City Trans Oral History Project (NYC-TOHP) make their aims expressly clear:
We are a collective, community archive working to document transgender resistance and resilience in New York City. We work to confront the erasure of trans lives and to record diverse histories of gender as intersecting with race and racism, poverty, dis/ability, aging, housing migration, sexism, and the AIDS crisis.
The organizers have partnered with the New York Public Library (NYPL) and their Community Oral History Project, and so their content appears across two different sites: the project site and the NYPL site (which has been archived via Archive-It). The NYPL website features full audio-recorded interviews focused on a variety of members in the gender non-binary and gender non-conforming community. On the NYPL landing page, the interviews are presented in alphabetical order by interviewee in boxes, accompanied by their picture and a summary of the interview if one has been written. Clicking on the box takes you to the full audio of the interview, as well as information such as the subject's name, the year they are born, their place of birth, and gender pronouns. Time and place of the interview are also displayed right above a rights statement that declares that the audio can be used and shared as long as it is permitted by the copyright and related rights law. Many interviews also display subject tags tied to different time stamps, as contributed by users, though not all of them have these tags.
A favorable feature of the project is the option to read a transcript of the interview instead (note: transcript links from the NYPL page are broken; transcript links from the project site take you to separate Amazon Web Services pages). The transcripts have been typed up by professional transcribers and volunteers—the task is still open to anyone who wishes to contribute to the project. Out of the 195 interviews, 179 transcripts have been completed.
If a person wants to conduct an interview themselves, the project site offers a participation section featuring guidelines and information that can help someone get organized, including an interview handbook as well as several print-out sheets given to the interviewee to fill out. These materials are also made available in Spanish. In their guidelines for interviewers, the organizers encourage people to interview and be interviewed by people they know (these relationships are disclosed in the Interview Data Sheets, but this information is not disclosed in the publicly available metadata) as this relationship can put both parties at ease and allow for better flow in the conversation. They also encourage interviewers to avoid following a typical chronological approach to their questions, as this type of storytelling places equal import on every stage of life, when the political engagement of the interviewees, which happens primarily in adulthood, is more what the archive is meant to capture. Also, the collective believes stories of identity building, although important, are currently overrepresented in other archives.
Other aspects of the project site include an events section that showcases previously held discussion-based gatherings in New York City as well as a section dedicated to a Queer Walking Tour led by activist Jay Toole.
The fact that oral histories are sorted alphabetically by first name on the NYPL site can obscure people who are at the bottom of the list. Moreover, this organization clashes with the section about the transcripts on the project site, which are not in alphabetical order: Information is displayed counterintuitively, and this results in a poor user experience. Ideally the histories could be sorted or filtered in different ways, which would not conceal the people at the bottom or elsewhere on the site.
We are curious about the decision to use Archive-It as a tool to maintain and preserve the project. As a result, many links lead to pages with 404 errors (not available), including those that would link to the organization itself (https://www.nyctransoralhistory.org/), due to the method that Archive-It uses to process web links (appending entire links to the home URL). Clicking on the tags given to each interview similarly do not render, which makes the metadata less useful for those conducting research. This is a shame because it could be a way to find relevant content within the audio files, especially for those interviews that have not yet been transcribed.