Curation Note 7: Editing and Exhibiting Audio Files

Activity Summary: 

  • Edited full-length interviews with Audacity
  • Removed personal and sensitive information, removed irrelevant conversation
  • Created audio files with clips of the conversations, labelled according to topic
  • Created audio recordings thumbnail from family collection pages to audio files page, sorted by topic
  • Determined which audio files to include and exclude
  • Determined what is necessary for tagging audio
  • Added audio clip files to accession log and saved in the archive


This session required some significant work both practically and theoretically. The intellectual work involved confronting the ethical considerations for using something so personal as an audio recorded interview, particularly in working with contributors who are sharing personal stories and histories that involve other individuals not connected to the project. I had to balance the archival instinct to retain complete and unaltered artifacts with a feminist rhetorical practice of having an ethics of care that privileges others’ well-being and having empathetic responses over my own research goals. The practical work involved operating between audio file formats in the recording device, the audio editing software, and the WordPress site, as well as making decisions about how to present the audio files in the exhibit. These issues are explored in the screencast recording below:

Editing Audio Clips by Topic and Adding to Exhibit:

In the end, I made several key decisions related to how I am using the audio recordings. There were four families who agreed to have a recorded interview: Alves, Areia, Furtado, and Sousa. The interviews were recorded in March and July of 2017, and each interview ranges in length from one to two hours. The conversations, as I alluded to in the Data Collection and Management chapter [INSERT LINK], varied by family. However, I did try to bring in the same subjects for each family, and these subjects are loosely present across all the recordings. It was important to me though that the conversations were not dominated by my questions and that I remain open to whatever subjects the contributors wanted to discuss in the moment. In listening back to the interviews, it was clear to me that the conversations in their totality would not be as useful to users than if they were coded in some way by subject, and it was also clear to me that not all recorded minutes were suitable for archiving.

This was the first ethical hurdle in the sense that as an archivist I felt that any editing of the interview at all would in some way detract from its authenticity as an artifact. I wanted to keep the conversations in as unmediated a form as possible; however, I also did not want to allow for sensitive information to be shared with a wider audience. These conversations about family and identity were often deeply personal and at times contributors shared stories about people who were not there to respond or offer their own perspective. In many cases, these individuals are still alive and their descendants are as well, potentially opening up some questionable ethical practices. While I had releases signed by all the contributors, the individuals they may be speaking of had not. I also heard contributors share highly personal information about their health or their medical histories, and, in one case, a contributor shared about instances of abuse. There were also innocuous aspects of the conversation, about subjects unrelated to the project such as whether there had been traffic that day or not. It was not personal, but it was not a discussion in service of the cultural goals for recording the interviews. I decided I did not want to make the complete recordings available on the site regardless of what the best archival practices might be. I decided to mediate with deep intervention in ways I had not done with the image artifacts. Although I have maintained a full and unedited copy of the complete interview in the archival hard drive and back-up copies, I am not making these files available to users, and likely would not share them even if contacted.

Once I made the decision to intervene in the recordings, it became a question of how to do that. I used the Audacity software to edit the files, first removing any irrelevant or sensitive aspects of the discussion. Next, I added labels to specific clips of the conversation to designate the subject of the discussion in that clip. This represents another editorial decision in assigning these labels. Although the process of labeling is inherently subjective, understanding that another listener could draw a different conclusion about the significance of the clip, I feel that the labels I chose are not taking any major liberties. It is a good example of how decisions reflect the curator’s particular vision, emphasizing what the curator predetermines is valuable, and how the curator chooses to frame the artifacts from the archive for the users. Once I exported the labelled clips as separate files from Audacity, I was able to save those in the archive as well with separate accession numbers. I added them to the Accession Log and determined how to load them on the family page, which I discuss in the screencast, and I feel that the choice of grouping the clips by my own assigned topic is further evidence of strong curatorial framing.

I was validated in taking this approach to the recordings from scholars working in similar cultural archives. Belinda Battley recognizes that there are “tensions felt between telling the truth and acting honourably and sensitively towards informants” (384). She argues that what compounds these tensions are the differences between our private and public selves and between people who are part of a community or outside of it. She contends that “making ethical decisions on matters such as privacy is especially problematic when working across multiple communities, where private information leaves the safety of shared values and understandings” (384). This resonates with me strongly, especially as the contributors and I all share some prior relationship that creates a sense of trust that might lead them to share stories in an atmosphere of comfort that they might not otherwise share with a wider audience. It raises questions of how privacy should be handled when we can recognize that there is a different sense of mutuality in the privacy of one’s home with a friend and in the context of the web. As I relocate the conversations from the home to the public sphere, I want to be mindful of these concerns and taking advantage of the participants’ openness in one setting to be used in another. Battley ultimately concludes that when we encounter challenges in “balancing the ethics of the different communities” it is important to “choose to favour the community that has most to lose” (384). In this case, my academic needs or my archival instinct toward preservation do not outweigh the potential harms of revealing sensitive information about individuals and other community members, making an edited presentation of the interviews a more ethical approach. I see support for my decisions also in the work of feminist rhetorical scholars as well who make the argument that prioritizing community stakeholders’ needs and well-being is essential for ethical scholarship. Gesa Kirsch argues. “As scholars, we have an ethical responsibility to members of the community we study and, in the case of historical subjects, to their descendants, who have a right to the respectful and dignified treatment of their ancestors” (25). I believe that the editing processes I have applied are treating the participants with respect and dignity while also extending that respect to others in the community.

Despite these ethical considerations, it is critically important to gather audio recordings of participants talking about their culture in their own words and expression. This is a powerful way of maintaining, what Ellen Cushman calls, the stakeholders’ “rhetorical sovereignty,” which is a making “accessible the stories and practices of storytelling in ways that honor indigenous enunciations of knowledge and help learners persevere in their culture and language” (132). As they share their knowledge in enunciations of their own, it helps the archive counter “colonialist archival traditions that decontextualize and render static ‘native’ traditions by separating ‘artifacts’ from their place, people, and use” (Enoch and Gold 109). I am confident that the recordings provide some of the strongest contributions to cultural preservation that this archive makes, and I know that family related to the participants will value the artifacts in a very real and material way. The contributor for the Sousa family, my Great-Aunt Elsie who is 96 years old, has so many descendants who I know will enjoy being able to listen to her tell family stories well beyond her physical life. It feels like the most special gift precisely because it is the most intimate, and although intimacy raises ethical questions, it should not dissuade archivists from pursuing recordings as artifacts.

Follow-Up on Curation Notes 6 Next Steps:

  • Edit and prepare audio files.
    • Completed using Audacity software to create labelled clips.
  • Determine how to display audio files in exhibit and load media files.
    • Completed. Loaded files, grouped by subject, onto a single page, accessible from the family collection page in the exhibit.
  • Tag audio files.
    • Will need to convert the .wav files to .mp3 files before I can tag them. 
  • Transcribe audio files.
    • The investment of time that will be needed to transcribe the included recordings is extensive. I will add these in time, but I need to balance creating an accessible site with a perfect site. I think the transcriptions are incredibly important, but if I wait to load the files until they are transcribed while the rest of the images are ready, it would put me in a difficult position of delaying the whole site that is already complete or to release the site without audio files. Both of those options would diminish the benefit of users having timely access to the site and some exposure to the recordings, even without transcriptions. 
  • Continue developing interconnectivity in exhibit and external links.
    • I do want to add these connections and links between artifacts, but again, like above, delaying the site until it is as complete as possible would likely put the site behind an administrative wall rather than in the hands of the community. 

Next Steps: 

  • Convert WAV files to MP3 files to enable tagging.
  • Tag audio files.
  • Add detailed descriptions to audio files.
  • Transcribe audio files and upload.
  • Link and connect artifacts to one another and to external content. 
  • Loading text chapters, linking content, using accordion/collapsible text, and exploring anchor links.


  • Ethics of care
  • Accomplishing and reaccomplishing as I have uploaded and captioned all audio files but will need to reupload audio files in alternate file format to tag
  • Time investment
  • Learning new technologies
  • Collaboration (crowd-sourcing software suggestions on #AcademicTwitter)
  • Ideal function versus time and user access; an ideal imagined site versus a functioning site that can serve some user needs

Works Cited:

Battley, Belinda. “Co-Producing Archival Research with Communication, Reflexivity and Friendship: Crossing the Three-Wire Bridge.” Archival Science, vol. 17, no. 4, Dec. 2017, pp. 371-391.

Cushman, Ellen. “Wampum, Sequoyan, and Story: Decolonizing the Digital Archive.” Seizing the Methodological Moment: The Digital Humanities and Historiography in Rhetoric and Composition, College English, vol. 76, no. 2, 2013, pp. 115-35.

Enoch, Jessica and David Gold. “Introduction: Seizing the Methodological Moment: The Digital Humanities and Historiography in Rhetoric and Composition.” College English, vol. 76, no. 2, 2013, pp. 105-114.

Kirsch, Gesa. “Being on Location: Serendipity, Place, and Archival Research.” Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process, edited by Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan, Southern Illinois UP, 2008, pp. 20-7.

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