West Side Oral Narrative Project (WSONP): Transcribing Discourse and Diversity in Saratoga Springs, New York
You have to visualize these places ’cause it’s long gone now.
—Edward Smith oral narrative, May 1, 1999
The West Side Oral Narrative Project (WSONP) began in 1998 as a community volunteer initiative to document oral heritage shared by long-term residents of neighborhoods on the west side of Saratoga Springs, New York. Recorded on tape cassettes, the interviews of over 60 residents encompass experiences of ethnically diverse, working-class, and immigrant families living on the city’s West Side. Covering events since the early 1900s, the narratives reveal how Irish immigrants, African-American migrants from the South, and Italian immigrants contributed to the social and economic development of the City of Saratoga Springs.
Interviewees comment on a wide range of community activities, including family life, religious celebrations, schools, railroad transportation, the tourist industry, family-run restaurants and other businesses, sports and games, gardening and cooking, gambling, and entertainment in a sporting or red-light district. Residents also comment on the decline of the West Side due to economic downturns, the departure of younger generations, and the displacement of residents due to Urban Renewal and community development. The collection of audio recordings represents a delightful way to imagine the experiences of hard-working and creative families from the African-American neighborhood of Congress Street, and the Irish-American and Italian-American neighborhood nicknamed Dublin that was concentrated along Beekman Street.
Since 2011, faculty and students from the Department of Anthropology at Skidmore College have collaborated with the WSONP to help preserve and present local heritage. We digitized the original set of cassette tape recordings and created oral history transcripts for the Saratoga Springs Public Library. The WSONP collection of audio recordings, oral history transcripts, documents, and memorabilia are available at the library’s Saratoga Room. Audio recordings and oral history transcripts are also available online: https://www.sspl.org/research/local_history/.
With guidance from the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College, anthropology faculty and students created this series of annotated transcripts titled West Side Oral Narrative Project: Transcribing Discourse and Diversity. An accompanying Transcription Style Guide describes editorial considerations for producing the annotated transcripts. The series and style guide allow faculty and students to develop new projects and broadly share local culture and heritage.
We encourage others to accept Edward Smith’s invitation to visualize people and activities that have long gone. The voices, stories, and laughter within each interview connect us with special people who created a meaningful, and often overlooked, part of Saratoga Springs heritage.
Professor Michael C. Ennis-McMillan
Department of Anthropology, Skidmore College
November 9, 2020