ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Oral HistorySubscribe to Oral History

Oral Traditions and Contemporary History

Oral history raises questions about the relationship between subjectivity and history – particularly the role memory plays in understanding what historical events mean to human subjects who experience them. Beginning its investigation with a performance and painting tradition that is still living, this article asks in what ways oral traditions – songs and performances – can be used as resources to understand the relationship between history and memory. It demonstrates the ways in which oral tradition and oral history might converge and map out a distinct relationship between experience and memory, and thus point towards a different understanding of events and their interpretations.

Listening to Silence, Reading between the Lines and Creating Archives

This paper moves away from definitions of oral history as a purely research methodology or secondary source material for mainstream disciplines, by concentrating on the variables it offers as a pedagogical device, and more importantly, as study material for arts and activism. It argues that oral history needs to become an independent discipline in central/state universities, with a well-defined curriculum in place. India has a wide repertoire of oral forms in the domain of cultural practice, but what is missed out are the ways in which voices get silenced. The reformulation of oral history methods of perception and understanding have to come from within systems of education, which stretches from primary to higher levels.

Speaking of the Past

This collection of five papers presents some key issues in understanding oral history, not only as a resource but also as an interpretative apparatus that opens up new ways of understanding the past. The range of work included here presents insights into the role played by memory, language and politics within oral history scholarship. Is it possible that these insights can encourage thinking in a new direction that takes orality, oral traditions and oral history seriously, and forms the first steps towards a new discipline?

Parallels, Divergences and Crossroads

This paper focuses on two main topics - the development of oral history in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and the important issues and problems currently faced by oral historians in the Czech Republic. After the Velvet Revolution, oral history became desirable for the purposes of democratisation, and also became necessary as there was a lack of "official" written documents. The current "boom" in oral history has had both negative and positive impacts: there exists a misuse of oral history for political purposes and the "hunt for sensation" on the one hand, and "giving voice" and democratisation of history on the other.

Oral History Voicing Differences

As a method, oral history's origins lie in a commitment to challenge, reveal and give voice to those disempowered, misrepresented, or simply missed out of official, dominant accounts of the past. In this paper, we link the memories of a group of South Asian overseas doctors, working in an elite profession with a distinctly non-elite group of patients, to an earlier set of archived interviews with the founders of the geriatric specialty. Our analysis identifies muted voices, generates recognition, and acknowledges ways of understanding and using the polyphony of difference. We argue that the value of reusing archived oral history data lies in the possibility for multiple interpretations of old and new data, and with this, new ways of hearing and listening to voices in interviews.

On the Uses of Memory

Memory is often discussed as an asset or a liability. Memory can function as "monument" in the form of commemoration and celebration of a proud collective identity, and a foundation on which individuals build their own identity. The function of memory, however, can be that of making us uneasy about ourselves and our history. This paper discusses in these terms the memory of two events that have shaped Italian national memory and identity: the Risorgimento (the war of national independence and unification) and the Resistance (the war of liberation from Fascism and Nazism). While both episodes are often celebrated in (literally) monumental terms, oral histories reveal hidden contradictions.
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