Sunday, April 27, 2014

NOLA: The Final Discussion

April 23

            Today I met with Dr. Manning to discuss my work on the NOLA project. Dr. Manning asked me what I thought after I confessed that I had in fact listened to many of the recordings and read through some of the transcripts. It was interesting as well as fascinating seeing how the interviewers on this project conducted their work. The questions that were asked as well as how they made the interviewees feel as comfortable as possible. I feel that an oral history is difficult because even though it is a firsthand account of what has been happening and what the volunteers have witnessed I believe the interviewees may still hold back.

            While the answers may be honest, I still wondered if the interviewer was getting a completely honest answer or were there parts of the volunteers’ experiences that they were not yet ready to talk about. I do believe that oral histories are relevant just as any other form of accepted historical method is and should be pursued. Regardless of the method, the facts given by one volunteer may be significantly different than the facts given by another volunteer. I think that the background of the volunteer is just as important as the work they are doing because it is in their background and beliefs that you will discover how they perceive certain situations and process them. What may seem severe treatment by one volunteer may be perceived by a different volunteer as a mere inconvenience.

            I did learn a quite a bit this semester about the intricacies of oral histories and what they entail. The work is hard and its tedious and even though I kind of did agree with Dr. Manning as far as it being akin to a police interrogation, I also believe it’s how you ask the questions that may lead you to the truth. Proceed carefully is what I determined to be one way to handle oral histories and as Dr. Manning pointed out, there has to be a common thread among all the interviews that would make for a compelling argument because after all is said and done it is quite possible that my truth is very different from everyone else’s.   

At the end

April 10

            I have completed my assignment. I have organized the volunteers by organization as well as just listed them with their documentation or lack thereof. I made more work for myself and the last part of it was a bit more tedious. I realized I had to stop letting myself get side tracked by listening to the audio as well as reading the transcripts. I did feel that I wanted to know more about these volunteers and did not want them to remain faceless names on my screen. These volunteers went through their own ordeals while volunteering to help just some of the hundreds of people that were left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

            Their hard work will always be appreciated by those they touched and I also believe that by documenting what they experienced is just as important as documenting what the local survivors of Katrina went through. This should be done without sensationalism and should be as factual as possible. The volunteers who went to New Orleans are survivors too, albeit a different kind of survivor but that does not make them any less affected by the devastation and loss that they witnessed. I see that the NOLA oral project could go down several paths and investigations could perhaps take us away from what we want this project to be. It is about the volunteers and the hope that they have brought to the people of New Orleans.  

A few more recordings

April 4

            My inquisitive nature has led me to a different place during my assignment. I listened to a few more audio recordings and read through some more transcripts of the interviews. I find myself slightly upset. These volunteers first went to New Orleans not really knowing why they were drawn to this place. When they did make the decision to quit their steady jobs in lieu of helping the people of New Orleans they did not expect to encounter what can be described as aggressive behavior from the law enforcement officials that were assigned to the location.  Some of the volunteers were taken aback by this behavior and treatment.

            I am trying to see both sides of this issue but so far I find myself asking more questions than coming up with a solid reason as to why the officers were so aggressive. This was just a minor issue the volunteers encountered. There was violence and shootings and death still occurring all around them. I’m thinking Catholic Charities and the other organizations left that out of the volunteer pamphlet they received before joining the cause. I do commend the volunteers though; they did not pack up their bags and run for the hills. They stayed and continued to work for the community.

Just a little more work

April 1

            I’m back at it again. I did manage to find a couple of hours of quiet time in between all my other duties to finish my list of volunteers and list their documentation. As I look over the list I am not satisfied with the work and then decide to list the organizations and the volunteers within the organizations as well as list the number of audio and video files as well as whether a transcript of the interview is also on file. I know this is more work but I feel that it would make more sense to present Dr. Manning with as much information on each volunteer as possible.

            I decide to use an outline format to accomplish my next step. I began to list the organizations and the volunteers within each. I counted all the audio files attached as well as any video files that might have accompanied the interview. This process is going to take me much longer than just listing everyone’s name and whether or not their informed consent or deed of gift was attached. I’m up for the new challenge that I have now imposed on myself; besides it gives me an excuse to listen to a few more audios.

Finding time to work is frustrating!

March 29

            I decided to do some work on one of the computers in the library during my brief 45 minute lunch break. Mistake number 1, was thinking I was going to be able to concentrate in the university library. Lots of loud whispering in the library, as well as fellow students wondering what I was working on or just wanting to chat.

            Mistake number 2, I’m in uniform and therefore a couple of students wanted to know who wrote them parking tickets (not me!) for parking over the lines in the parking garage and asked how they could get out of paying them. My accomplishment during my 45 minute break? I did not eat, I only managed to get through one organization and I now have a headache. So much for thinking I was going to accomplish more than just socializing today. This assignment definitely requires a quiet space and no distractions. This means back to working on my slow computer at home. Hopefully my kids will co-operate (and they are older, yet still needy) and give me at least an hour to myself to hopefully organize my notes.  


Sorting Through...

March 26

            Today I spent a couple of hours sorting through all the volunteers and some of their paperwork. After all my assignment this semester is to make a list of the paperwork each one has to see what still needs to be collected from them. This is a bit tedious and boring. I would much rather continue reading over some transcripts or listening to some interview audio.

            I have to decide how I want to organize this assignment in order for it to be comprehensible and easy to follow. I try a couple of different formats before deciding to just list each name and list the documentation that is attached to each. I begin going through each organization and writing down the volunteers listed. The computer I was using was having some issues and it took an inordinate amount of time to open each file. I gave up after about 90 minutes having only gone through three organizations. This was a frustrating obstacle.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Too much devastation

March 24

            I continue to look over many of the transcripts in the NOLA project and notice that people who volunteered to help re-build New Orleans originally were just curious about the devastation that Katrina had left behind. The hurricane slammed into New Orleans in 2005 and most of the volunteers interviewed were in New Orleans in 2008. A recurring theme with the volunteers was their shock at still seeing so much destruction upon their arrival. More than one volunteer stated that they thought in three years more progress would have been seen in the surrounding areas around the city center. Many volunteers were taken aback by the lack of progress and extreme need the people waiting for homes exhibited.

            It was a sobering realization by many of the volunteers and many would admit that it would require them to volunteer for more than just a week to make a difference. This lack of progress led many volunteers to quit their stable and well paid jobs. The volunteers felt that  helping so many families return to a normal life would garner a much bigger reward than a paycheck ever could.