Transcribing The Bretton Woods Transcripts

At Bretton Woods, stenographers recorded by hand what the conference delegates said. The stenographers were U.S. government employees, apparently all women. (Even though World War II was on, opportunities for women to advance to positions of high responsibility were limited. There was apparently only one female delegate at the conference, a Mrs. L. Gouseva from the Soviet Union.) The stenographers then took their notes to a typing pool, where they or other typists, again apparently all women, typed the notes, on manual typewriters of course, and sometimes made corrections.

It is evident from the typed transcriptions that the stenographers sometimes had difficulty following the conference delegates, whether because the subjects were highly technical and unfamiliar to them, the accents of some delegates were hard to understand, or the acoustics of the room were bad. Fortunately, many of the gaps and mistakes were easy for Andrew Rosenberg and me to fix, because the missing pieces were evident from the context, and unlike the stenographers we had ample time to try to puzzle out what the delegates were saying.

To transcribe the transcriptions ourselves, and convert them from paper to an electronic format, we dictated them with voice recognition software. Andrew did most of the work dictating the transcripts. He used Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 11, a well-known program. For a few small patches, I used a “lite” version of Dragon that comes free with the iPad. Unless you are quite a good typist, dictation is faster. Even though you have to go back and correct errors (“disequilibrium” may become “this equilibrium,” for instance), Dragon makes no more errors in dictation than I normally make as a typist, and the computer, fortunately, permits making an infinite number of mistakes on the way to a clean final copy.

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About Kurt Schuler

Kurt Schuler, co-editor of The Bretton Woods Transcripts, is Senior Fellow of Financial History at the Center for Financial Stability and an economist in the Office of International Affairs at the United States Department of the Treasury.

One thought on “Transcribing The Bretton Woods Transcripts

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