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International scholars reflect on OHA conference

            The Oral History Association awarded travel scholarships totaling $11,500 to assist scholars from five different regions of the world to attend the Montreal conference.

            International scholars received a total of $5,000, presenters received $5,000 and non-presenters received $1,500.

            An additional $5,000 was raised to provide scholarships for people affected by the year’s devastating hurricanes. The funds were raised during the 2017 Day of Giving and included contributions of $1,000 each by the Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, two regions dramatically affected by the hurricanes.

            International scholarship recipients offered the following reflections on their OHA experiences:

Stephanie Arnold, cellist and oral historian, Melbourne, Australia

            “Oral history as a place to gather” was Steven High’s phrase in the “Oral History As Creative Practice” round table. The phrase has stuck with me as I have reflected on the 15 or so sessions I attended at the OHA conference in Montreal. The word gather seemed appropriate for this particular conference. This is why:

            It made me reflect on the different ways we collect oral histories. To gather is to bring together and take in (something/fragments/ pieces) from scattered places or sources from different places or people. The conference sessions explored ways to collect, to interview, to archive and then also to share oral histories within and beyond institutions.

            To gather courage was a powerful message from Leyla Neyzi’s keynote as she outlined the serious challenges faced by herself and fellow academics practicing oral history under the pressure of authoritarian governments. In our challenging times, it sometimes feels harder to gather together around difficult subjects. But in fact it is around the issues that challenge us most where it becomes so important to come together. I felt this especially in the “Ethics of Listening” session, a gathering to ask each other the difficult ethical questions. To gather in discomfort.

            To gather: to put your arms around someone and hold or carry them in a careful or loving way. To scoop up or take up from a resting place.

            There was something in this definition that spoke to me especially about the sensitive nature with which oral historians aim to treat their sources and interview material. There is a weight that comes with this kind of gathering, a responsibility that requires us to strive to care for this material.

            Metaphorically, we put our arms out and gather someone’s story, someone’s memory, someone’s experience, we hold and carry their story in a careful and, as much as we can, an ethical way. The values practiced by oral historians as well as artists and activists who work with oral histories, can contribute much to public discourse by gathering and collecting human stories; taking care to listen; taking care to find the right places and means to share these stories so that others may listen and learn from them.

            To gather: come together; assemble or accumulate. And in this process we gather together deliberately to listen, to share, to learn, to perform, to participate. At each performance or panel about performance that I attended I felt this keenly. There is power and value in listening as a group and in participating and performing as a group.

            To gather strength/ momentum. This was the feeling that I had as I left the OHA meeting.I was filled with motivation from the people I met, the sessions I attended and the conversations I had. Being a part of this OHA gathering will have a continued influence on my future oral history projects.

Arzu Öztürkmen, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

            Coming to OHA this year meant more than just a regular conference participation. My priority was to act as the discussant of the linked panels “Our Challenging Times: The Possibilities and Limits of Oral History in Turkey,” organized by Leyla Neyzi and Lorenzo d’Orsi. Our panel united six scholars drawing on different challenging issues of doing oral history in Turkey. Many of us knew one another through our works, but physically gathering for face-to-face discussion has brought forward many details we did not have a chance to discuss before.

            It was a moving experience to listen Leyla’s keynote speech,which very well expressed many issues we have been experiencing in the past few years in Turkey.  In a separate panel, I was also able to present my own research, which focused on the memory of and nostalgia for political humor in Turkish television. 

            The OHA meeting gave me also an opportunity to pass time with many colleagues whom I knew since my graduate study years, with whom I worked in IOHA Council, and many new scholars who worked on Turkey.  The program offered very useful contribution to my own research on the history of media, on rethinking methodologies and ethical issues in oral history research.

            A peak moment was the performance of women’s narratives of doing laundry at the Atwater Library.  It made me think about 3.5 million refugees now living in Turkey.  There as well art is one of the best ways of coping with trauma. Given the heavy numbers, many of us are also immersed in social help mainly in the fields of children’s education and women’s support. 

           As a francophone, Montreal was a venue I never had a chance to visit. Who knows what my former pen-pal Paul is doing now 🙂 We used to correspond in the 1970s. I was also struck by the construction in the city for its renovation. The Airbnb where we stayed was built in 1865, and it was perhaps the most memorable site for me from Montreal. 

Theresa de Langis, American University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

            I am so grateful to the International Committee of the Oral History Association for supporting my attendance at this year’s OHA conference in Montreal. As a researcher and professor at a small university in Cambodia,it would not have been possible for me to attend otherwise.

            It was an honor to present as part of the series of panels for the publication launch of Beyond Women’s Words: Feminisms and the Practices of Oral History in the Twenty-First Century, and to finally meet in person the other chapter authors and our amazing and hard-working editors, Katrina Srigley, Stacey Zembrzycki and Franca Iacovetta. Although this was my first OHA conference, it felt a bit like coming home to a proper discipline for the purposes of the research I do and the ethics I hold in working with narrators. I especially enjoyed seeing the performances and activism coming out of oral histories collections,and the oral history tours through the neighborhoods of Montreal were wonderful at showing how history is never only in the past, but continually being created in a dynamic world, making oral histories ever so relevant. 

Rajesh Prasad, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, India

            I wanted to thank you very much for OHA International Scholarship Committee and Conference Organizing Committee for their excellent management of what has turned out to be a successful and highly stimulating conference on Oral History in Our Challenging Times. I am sure that all the attendees of the OHA-2018 must have told you this. Such a conference involves enormous amounts of time and energy — you must have been working so hard lately for everything to fall into place as it has.

            I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your invite. Much has being debated in the conference,and it came out clear that the situation of the engagement in the oral history is not an easy one, but the conference has set a platform to start engaging in the matter and the Oral History Association is playing a very significant role in the subject matter of oral history–narratives–storytelling and its expansion. Once again thank you for the opportunity to partake in the conference.

Also receiving an OHA travel scholarship was Juan Pablo Aranguren Romero of the Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia.

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