Transcribing sacred speech with Pop Up Archive

With rousing sermon titles like “Spin City Jesus,” “Healing by Eating Cold Grease,” and “Hell Is for Accountants,” Duke University’s Chapel Recordings Collection proves that church sanctity need not come at the expense of grade-A entertainment.

The purpose of the collection is to aid would-be preachers in the field of homiletics — a new word to us, too, that means the art of writing and delivering sermons — explains Molly Bragg, Duke’s Digital Collections Program Manager.

In 2014, Molly and University Archivist Valerie Gillespie set about digitizing the Duke Chapel recordings in response to divinity students’ requests to access the collection’s sermons, which date from 1946 to 2002. Since then, their team has digitized and made available 1,400 audio/video items and 1,300 printed manuscripts.


The Duke Chapel Recordings web archive allows students to analyze sermons for theological and rhetorical components. It also serves as a historical resource, documenting Duke campus life and world events surrounding the sermons.


Students protest apartheid outside of the Duke Chapel, May 4, 1985.

“An archive of sermons offers [students] a relational time-machine, a gateway to the past where a preacher’s words reach out in a handshake, introducing their time, and place,” says Adrienne Koch, Project Director at Duke Divinity School.

South African activist Desmond Tutu’s 1986 sermon at Duke is a standout example of global and local history converging at the pulpit. Tutu addressed the congregation during worldwide protests against apartheid (including one on Duke’s campus) and thanked students for their prayers and support.


Duke is using Pop Up Archive to transcribe sermons like Tutu’s with the goal of tagging and making them searchable by speaker, themes, and Biblical references. The university is also using the transcripts to create closed captioning files for hearing-disabled people. After revising transcripts with Pop Up Archive’s editor, student workers export the time-stamped transcripts as WebVTT files, which display as captions on Duke’s web video player.

“Duke Chapel is welcoming to all, and the goal of this project is to provide access for as many people who would not otherwise experience the collection’s historical documents and audiovisual content,” says Molly. “Having multiple formats enables us to do that.”

Hear and Read Duke Chapel Recordings

Four picks to get you fired up for the Fourth!

We’ve cued up an Independence Day playlist for you to savor while you prep for your backyard BBQ.

 America Eats: A Hidden Archive—The Kitchen Sisters
It’s hard to imagine July Fourth without barbecue, burgers, brats, potato salad, slaw, and watermelon. The Kitchen Sisters explore how food gives flavor to our most time-honored traditions and how it is tied to our very notions of place and personhood. In this episode, the Kitchen Sisters continue the legacy of America Eats—a WPA program started in the 1930s to document American foodways—and explore how blue-plate specials and down-home cooking reflect our national fabric.

Mapping America, one dish at a time. share on Twitter

 The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence—Focus 580 (Illinois Public Media)
Red, white, and blue are synonymous with July Fourth, but the color of money was an early motif in the American Revolution. The desire for imported goods, notably teapots, created the tempest that would eventually rally patriots’ cries for independence.

How free-market capitalism motivated colonists’ cries for freedom. share on Twitter

 July 04,1970—From the Vault (Pacifica)
The cultural revolutions of the 1960s changed the discourse surrounding freedom and independence. Archival audio from a July 4, 1970 celebration in Washington, D.C. captures differing views on patriotism and the American legacy following the Civil Rights movement, anti-war efforts, the Stonewall Riots, second-wave feminism, and the rise of Black Power.

What the American Revolution meant in the wake of sixties’ revolutionary movements. share on Twitter

 Tips for a Successful Summer Barbecue—Forum (KQED)
Chefs and food writers share their favorite recipes and pro-tips for delicious July Fourth fare, for meaty grillmasters and vegetarian celebrants alike. This episode is chock full of fresh ideas (smoked fish, Mexican elote and bitter-green salad, to name a few) for those looking to mix up their holiday menu.

Recipes and tips on how to lock down your July 4th spread. share on Twitter

Open Audio Weekend

Creating better access, engagement, & sharing tools for audio

Last weekend Pop Up Archive teamed up with New York Public Library Labs and The Moth for Open Audio Weekend, a two day hackathon to prototype new tools for digital audio. The event was the culmination of work on the Together We Listen, a project supported by the Knight Foundation Prototype grant which was awarded to NYPL and The Moth in late 2015 to explore using crowd-sourcing corrections to Pop Up Archive’s automatic transcripts. Continue reading