The first step to annotating audio is listening to the whole recording before listening to any selections to understand the context of the recording (though in the classroom setting, we recommend listening to a short portion of the tape. See note below). Listening is a different method than reading or watching and will accordingly require different methods of approach with different demands on time and attention. As you might carefully read and re-read a passage in close-reading, audio requires close-listening.

For audio with sensitive moments, like the one we have chosen for this lesson, listening can present a unique challenge. By pressing play on an audio recording, you become a sort of “witness” to the moments taking place in the audio. Communication and media theorist Amit Pinchevski, writing about audiovisual testimonies of Holocaust survivors at Yale’s Fortunoff Library, acknowledges the place of the listener as witness and says unlike text, the recordings “impose on the audience a complex audio-visual narrative, which calls for the development of collective skills of interpretation and active engagement” (p. 258-259).4 Further (as with other kinds of media), exposing listeners to potentially sensitive or upsetting material with no warning may forcibly shift their focus from the material to their reaction provoked by the difficult content, making any new learning nearly impossible.5

We have structured the lesson in a way that is aware of this mode of listening and witnessing, and acknowledge that the potential of trauma is an important thing to keep in mind for listeners. Note that we have broadly described the Beecher “Syndicalism” case (informed via historical and social context) and provided an audio content warning noting where racial slurs occur and their context prior to any discussions of listening and annotating. You may wish to follow a similar approach if listening to sensitive audio, particularly when listening to it with others. Further, be aware that this audio recording was created in 1964, so some highschoolers recorded on the tape may still be living. Similarly, many archival materials, like the one we have chosen, have connections to the present that can be unsettling or surprising, particularly if the same sorts of trauma described or captured in the recording is something listeners are still experiencing today.

With this in mind, take some time to listen to the recording, or the portion you will be annotating. The steps below will help you think about ways to create and organize annotations.

Classrooom Suggestion: For teaching in a classroom setting, we recommend focusing on a 1-2 minute portion of the audio to ensure students have sufficient time to listen, process, and engage critically with the content. In the Beecher recording, we recommend the clip from 14:07-15:37 for classroom discussion, where the recently released students discuss their limited recreational privileges and lack of sufficient nutrition and have many surprising moments of levity. This particular clip does not contain racist slurs, but due to the overall sensitivity of this recording, students should still read the content warning and summary before listening.

4: Pinchevski A. (2011) Archive, Media, Trauma. In: Neiger M., Meyers O., Zandberg E. (eds) On Media Memory. Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

5: Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin, a SAGE company.