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Course & Subject Guides

Oral History Toolkit: A How-To and Resource Guide

This guide serves as a toolkit for students, staff and faculty who intend to create an oral history project or are curious about how to use oral histories as primary resources.

Transcribing Oral History

As audiovisual content is transcribed, it is important to keep in mind that both the recording and the resulting transcript are equally valuable. The goal of the transcript is to enhance the audiovisual recording, and not to supplant it. When transcriptions are created, efforts need to be made to record what is being said accurately. It's not always possible to reach out to the speakers represented in the recording to ask them what they said. The goal is to produce the best possible representation of what is heard. This means what the speaker says the way it is said is captured the transcriber needs to resist the urge to edit the transcript if, for instance, what is said is grammatically incorrect. The transcript may include a note stating just this. For instance:

The following is a verbatim transcript of what was spoken in the recording. Our best efforts have been made to capture and represent the interview in its entirety, though there is the possibility of error.

Other tasks that might be undertaken during transcription activities include indexing geographical names and personal names, as well as creating a time index for the audio content. It is very possible that the software and/or delivery platform chosen will be able to do some of the audio indexing for you. Additionally, outside research may be conducted on topics discussed so that there is an understanding of what is being said. This can often help clear up issues with spelling of unfamiliar terms and names as well as in creating notes within the transcript that may help the listener. A note may look like this, [ed. note: Savina Skewis was an instructor at Pitt for over 40 years, including a term as Dean of Women from 1965-1968] 

Once the project has been decided and the guidelines approved, it is very important to track the work being completed in a methodical manner. This spreadsheet  provides an idea of the type of information A&SC feels is important to gather for the project. The spreadsheet keeps track of what the interviews that have been assigned and where the interview is in the transcription progress. If the spreadsheet is continually used to record the transcription process across all oral history collections, eventually there will be a complete record of all interviews transcribed and which ones still need work. 

Software exists to assist with the transcription process and to present the oral histories and their interivew text online. The following may be considered and are also free.


This software has an editor and view component that allows for the display and editing of interview content. It will even ingest transcripts that have already been created. The OHMS also works nicely with Omeka, though it does create a proprietary XML. To use with Islandora, a conversion of the XML would be required. OHMS also requires a online source for the videos. It works with video and audio oral history content. Content can be hosted on YouTube, Kaltura, SoundCloud, or locally. See the User Guide for a more in-depth discussion of the capabilities and requirements. 

This software works with video and audio content. According to the website, it does the following:

  •     create captions for video formats that play natively in browsers (e.g., mp4, m4v);
  •     import plain-text transcripts for editing and timin
  •     transcribe caption text directly into the caption editor;
  •     edit, style and time captions,
  •    import existing caption files (WebVTT, SRT, TTML, QTText, SCC, Plain Text) for clean-up, editing or re-timing;
  •    export caption files in common formats, including WebVTT, SRT, TTML, QTText, SAMI, SCC, and plain-text scripts.

A User Guide  is available detailing all of the requirements. CADET does necessitate the installation of NodeJS, a JavaScript runtime environment if one does not already exist for the transcriber.

An open-source subtitling software tool. It works on Windows, MacOS, and Unix. Most recent release is 2014. It works with video and audio and has a robust editing ability for text. It also has the ability to synchronize the subtitles with the video or audio content and features a spellchecker and the ability to export. The overview will provide a quick look into all of the Aegisub capabilities.

An online transcription tool which allows for audio and video transcription which lets users can opt for AI or human transcription services. Over 70 languages are supported. Users can also opt for automatic, human, or human-translated subtitles. It is fee-based but free to try. Transcription minutes are limited per month and may not be useful for large projects. 

Basic level is free to use, other levels allowing collaboration are fee-based. The free version allows for 300 monthly transcription minutes, 30 minutes per conversation, and a lifetime limit of 3 uploaded audio or video files. Otter has apps, browser plug-ins, as well as Zoom and Slack integration.

Rev offers a fee-based live person transcription service as well as a fee-based AI-based service. It has an app for recording audio and then ordering transcripts of the recorded content. AI transcripts are generated in real-time.

An online transcription tool which allows for audio and video transcription using an AI engine. Audio or video files can be uploaded or transcriptions can be created from live audio. Users can also collaborate on transcriptions, create summaries, and create custom dictionaries, among other features.  The software has the ability to detect over 40 languages and will translate for an additional charge. Users can try 30 minutes for free.

An online and app-based transcription tool which allows for audio and video transcription using an AI engine. Audio or video files can be uploaded or transcriptions can be created from live audio. Users can also collaborate on transcriptions. The software has the ability to detect over 40 languages.


Transcription Tools

Creating a transcript can be one of the more time-consuming aspects of conducting oral histories. Fortunately, there are tools available to help.

MS Word in Office 365 has both a dictate and a transcribe function that can shorten the time it takes to transcribe a recording. It allows for the uploading of the audio file which it will then process and provide a transcript. You will want to add this to a document and edit to fit your project guidelines. 

A step-by-step guide is available from Transcribe Your Recordings.

CADET (Caption And Description Editing Tool) developed by WGBH is a free caption authoring software that allows users to accurately caption their video file. 

Outsourcing Transcription

Sometimes, transcription cannot be done in-house. There are many vendors available that offer transcription services for a fee. The University of Pittsburgh preferred service is