Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


OHA international scholarship recipients announced

This year the International Committee received 14 International Scholarship Applications. Awards have been made to:

Lorna Barton, Scotland
Sophia Isajiw, Canada
Hong Jiang, China
Riikka Taavetti, Finland
Cheryl Ware, Australia

This month we will feature abstracts from Lorna Barton, Sophia Isjiw and Hong Jiang. Next month we will feature abstracts by Riikka Taavetti and Cheryl Ware.

Lorna Barton, Scotland

The importance of gathering transgender (trans) narratives seems more crucial than ever with the dawning of the Trump administration’s power in the United States, but this process is not without its challenges.  Oral historians believe that oral sources have credibility, recognising that it is their departure from ‘fact’ that makes them equally significant to what are perceived as factually accurate accounts, mainly because of what these departures can tell us about the meaning that the past holds for people in the present.  However, there is often an additional emphasis among oral historians—particularly when engaging audiences who might not share their interest in privileging what is psychologically true for interviewees—on the importance of triangulating oral sources to ascertain their factual accuracy. This desire for triangulation can pose key methodological challenges when working with the life histories of minority groups such as trans Americans—people who are non-conforming to American gender norms and are in some instances taking steps to physically transition from one gender binary to another to reflect the person they are on the inside—who are typically misrepresented and even actively silenced in the historical record.

This paper, based on analysis of 22 life history interviews with trans individuals who live in Denver Colorado, will examine the issues around negotiating the accuracy of these narratives when intimate details cannot be verified against other sources.  Is establishing accuracy important when gathering life histories from trans individuals who do not belong to the hegemonic class and about whom there is a dearth of reliable information?  Does it make their oral testimony any less historically or politically important, or less necessary to record?  And how might oral histories of trans individuals and communities then perform against the usual markers of academic rigour, such as peer review, and increasingly, public impact?


Sophia Isajiw, Canada

Oral history has played a crucial role in elaborating the history of the Holodomor, the famine-genocide in Ukraine of 1932-33, perpetrated by Soviet authorities in the USSR. ‘Holodomor’ means murder by starvation; it resulted in the deaths of some four million Ukrainians. For much of the twentieth century, interviews with survivors and witnesses who had managed to escape comprised most of the evidence of this genocide since Soviet authorities denied it had taken place and restricted access to archives that would later corroborate witnesses accounts.

Working independently of each other and at different points in time, scholars and individuals from various disciplines have conducted oral history projects to record and understand the consequences of the Holodomor on survivors and descendant generations. These projects have served to bear witness, preserve truth, give voice to family histories that had been suppressed for decades, reveal the scope of the tragedy, dispel survivor guilt, share commonalities – as catharsis, validation and empowerment. As a starting point of the roundtable discussion, presenters will trace the arc of trauma from the Soviet collectivization of farmers through the Holodomor to the legacy of genocide on the children and grandchildren of survivors, exploring the role of oral history in shaping a narrative of the historical tragedy itself as well as implications for the long-term, intergenerational transmission of collective trauma.


Hong Jiang, China

Although teaching has had a long history in China, formal and modernised teacher education, which was largely recognised as a Western educational construct, has only been in existence for the past 120 years. This oral history project was driven by a desire to reconsider how teacher education should be positioned in relation to the teaching profession, higher education, the state and teachers in the Chinese context through a past-present construction. Three types of qualitative sources, namely documentary, visual and oral data were assembled from archival and online searches, and by conducting of 40 oral history interviews.

Drawing on former student teachers’ testimonies, this paper captures key features and major trends of the formal pattern of the Chinese teacher education system since the foundation of People’s Republic of China. It is argued that despite a wide range of structural and theoretical changes over time, continuities were more prevalent from 1949 to 1982. It also scrutinizes the impact of educational reforms upon the teaching profession and teachers’ identities from a rhetorical perspective. Evidence suggests that as an inherent linguistic and cultural characteristic of the Chinese language, metaphor, together with other literary devices, plays an important role in constructing and understanding key concepts relevant to teacher education.

Reflecting on the methodological affinities between oral history and other social science research approaches, Grounded Theory and Case Study in particular, I will also discuss how tools and techniques developed and utilised by sociologists and educational researchers could provide instructive routes for oral historians to arrive at a more reliable and insightful historical account. Specific examples are provided regarding research design, interview and analysis of multiple sets of sources.  I further propose to theorise oral history as a cyclic practice, which involves oral history as archiving, research method, pedagogy and empowerment, in building teachers’ community and promoting teachers’ voices.