Voices of survivors shake oral history

By Shelisa Melendez

The voices of the people of Haiti are making themselves heard.

It was just two years ago when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and impacted the lives of many businesses, families and schools.

Since the natural disaster made its footprint on the country, the stories of those who survived are hard to come by.

Last spring, Jeremy Popkin, a history professor and a Haiti scholar, invited Claire Antone Payton, a graduate student in the Department of History and Institute of French Studies at New York University, to speak to his class about the events. Payton also has a focus on Haitian History.

It was then when Popkin suggested a collaboration between Payton and the Nunn Center.

At the beginning of last year, UK’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History paired with Payton for the Haiti Memory Project.

From June to December 2010, Payton collected more than 100 interviews for the project from survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, who spoke about their experiences during the earthquake and how life has been after.

“I had a little digital audio recorder that I kept in my purse,” Payton said. “For the first few weeks I worked mostly in one camp that was walking distance from where I was living and where I had made some friends.”

The purpose of the project is to preserve and record these stories in the native Creole language, which they were conducted in.

“It’s going to keep a permanent record of the experiences in their own Creole language, since it’s hard for them to leave a record because most of them cannot write,” Popkin said

Payton hopes this project will help contribute to scholars in the future.

“Although I can’t interview the people I want to learn about from the past, I can try to assure that future scholars won’t have the same degree of difficulty accessing these voices from our present,” Payton said.

The Nunn Center hopes to translate the interviews into to English for listeners to gain a better understanding.

“It will have a great value to the general public who is less inclined to speak Creole,” said Doug Boyd, the director of the Nunn Center.

Boyd said the Nunn Center is currently looking to use the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer program to “connect text in transcripts to correlating moments in the audio or video,” making it easier for users to enter keyword searches in the interviews.

“(We are) leaders in getting oral history online in cool, exciting ways,” Boyd said.

A sample of the interviews conducted for the Haiti Memory Project can be heard on haitimemoryproject.org