First Workshop and Second Expert Meeting
This was a small (20-25 person) workshop on research methodology issues in the field of African oral literary studies. One of the central concerns of such studies is how best to analyse and present the various elements of performance that simultaneously go to make up the transitory experience of the ‘oral communicative moment’ and how to represent them, both visually and audibly.
Professor Graham Furniss and dr Martin Orwin of SOAS proposed to the network that it should examine the software developed by Dr Peter Seitel, called Synchrotext. This software is still under development but provides a framework within which it is possible to represent the sound and vision of an oral performance, a transcription, a translation and various analytical tools within an integrated whole.
The conference/workshop is intended to allow scholars in the field to bring their own materials, of differing kinds and from differing traditions, and to experiment with the software and reflect upon the methodological problems surrounding analysis and representation. This should allow an assessment of this software as a tool, and a clarification of the remaining shared and particular issues that members of the network, and others, face in their research.
In the first part of the workshop, Peter Seitel offered a throughout presentation of Synchrotext as a tool for visualizing and annotating transcription and translation of oral materials (whether songs, storytelling, theatre etc.). The participants were impressed and reacted positively. During this session, the participants discussed aspects that showed that, as Graham Furniss pointy summarized, software programmes are not only presentation tools but also analytical tools (when, for example, we have to decide the visual and literary form that transcription and translation take and the interplay between audio and video). Peter Seitel informed us that his Synchrotext 1 is a non-profit, non-commercial user’s free license to use the program, and that he supports the use of Synchrotext by the Network researchers and users at large. A commercial enlarged and revised version Synchrotext 2 will be released in the near future.
During the second session, held on May 11, the participants had the opportunity to become acquainted with the use of Synchrotext; they could transcribe and translate their audio-video materials in the visual environment offered by the programme. Synchrotext can be used relatively easily, and detailed instructions are also available. Peter Seitel generously offered to give his support by e-mail if participants needed further help while using Synchrotext in the future.