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International Committee shares OHS Call for Papers


2017 Conference: Remembering Beliefs – The Shifting Worlds of Religion and Faith in Secular Society

The Annual Conference of the Oral History Society in conjunction with Newman University and Leeds Trinity University

Date: Friday, 14th and Saturday 15th July, 2017

Venue: Leeds Trinity University, Horsforth, Leeds, LS18 5HD

In recent years, belief and non-belief have developed new significance. What might once have been valued as something individual and private in many contexts only a generation ago can now be a matter of open identification and even confrontation and judgement. In seeking to understand what has changed, memory has an important part to play: identifying how belief and non-belief have played out at the level of family, community and society; recognizing how people engage in the practices of belief and experience the institutions of organized religion. For reasons perhaps of prejudice, perspective and communal difference oral historians have largely neglected the topic of belief and non-belief.

Going beyond studies which have focused on those with religious conviction, oral history offers the possibility to move debate outside the confines of institutionalized religion both conceptually and practically, pushing the boundaries of what is meant by belief. Indeed, it offers the ideal approach to understanding manifestations of belief and secularism at an individual level while tracking their relationship to shifting expressions of broader cultural norms and the conferment of identity. Tackling this exciting agenda, the remit of the Conference will be broad but contributions should focus on an oral history in relation to the following:

* methodological challenges in understanding belief, secularism and religion

* understanding the process of secularization through oral history testimonies

* inter-subjectivity in interviews on belief and non-belief

* the role belief plays in shaping memory

* exploring the interface of religion, belief and cultural/ national identities

* belief and education

* belief and non-belief in social, political and cultural transformations

* shifting the narratives of religion away from an institutional base

* gender and established religious institutions

* sects and movements

Keynote speakers: Professor Callum Brown, University of Glasgow; Dr. Abby Day, Goldsmiths, University of London; Dr. Tina Block, Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia. After-Dinner Speaker, Friday, 14 July, Bruce Kent.

All proposals for oral history-based contributions, including papers, panels, presentations, workshops, posters and displays should be submitted by 16th December 2016 to ku.gr1618948374o.sho1618948374@71021618948374fnoCS1618948374HO1618948374.

The conference will include strands dedicated to the OHS Higher Education and Special Interest Groups.

For more details go to:

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Apollo Theater video oral history project asks “Why Can’t We?”

The Apollo Theater Video Oral history Project at Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing & Visual Arts has just completed its sixth year. Thirty-five 11th graders learned to document oral history interviews using video in conjunction with their African American and Latin & Caribbean American Studies class.

Working with an Apollo teaching artist, Wadleigh Secondary students learn aspects of video production, applying foundational filmmaking tools and theory while recording personal accounts of historical events from a variety of interviewees. Over the course of conducting the interviews, students learn how to have productive conversations and how to research and gather information. Through this process, they are able to connect the past to the present while considering their own impact on the future of the community.

The project this year, Why Can’t We? focused on capturing the experiences of individuals who exceeded the expectations that life and society placed before them. As the students explored the lives and the contributions of people such as Dred Scott, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sixto Rodriguez they came across a common theme: Each of these individuals went beyond the limits that were placed before them. The students then sought out men and women in their communities to interview, who in their own way went beyond the limits and expectations that they faced. Following the interviews, students analyzed footage, researched information that added depth to their stories, and edited the content down to the most essential concepts that would best engage the audience.

Why Can’t We? from Apollo Theater on Vimeo.

WHY CAN’T WE? is posted on the Apollo Theater website.

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International Committee sponsors sessions at 2016 annual meeting

The International Committee is pleased to sponsor the following sessions at the upcoming Annual Meeting in Long Beach, CA from October 12-16, 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016, 8:30 AM

New Immigrants, New Working Class: Stories from Recent Immigrant Workers in Iowa and Southern California (Panel)


Over the last thirty five years, new groups of immigrants have played a central role in reshaping work in diverse industries across the United States. In the process, they have presented the country’s besieged labor movement with both challenges and opportunities. This session highlights oral histories from two projects directed at recent immigrants’ struggles in two distinct workplace, union, and regional contexts. In the first part of the session, John McKerley and Mariana Ramirez will present findings from their interviews with packinghouse workers (some non-union and some members of the United Food and Commercial Workers) in rural and small-town Iowa. In his part of the presentation, McKerley will place the recent interviews within the context of the parent project (the Iowa Labor History Oral Project) and the larger historiography of meatpacking workers and their unions, particularly the tradition established by the United Packinghouse Workers Oral History Project during the 1980s. Ramirez will build on this presentation with a discussion of recent interviews, particularly those she has conducted with Spanish-speaking narrators. In the third presentation, Andrew Gomez will describe his work with service workers who organized in and around Los Angeles under the banner of Justice for Janitors, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Working in concert with the UCLA Center for Oral History, he has collected interviews with rank-and-file members, organizers, and local allies in an attempt to understand the roots of the Justice for Janitors movement, its successes, and the histories of the primarily Mexican and Central American workers who have propelled the movement. The session will conclude with comments from and discussion with the audience. The session will be chaired by Toby Higbie of the UCLA History Department.

Thursday, October 13, 2016, 3:15 PM

Dreams, traumas, and alternate realities; Uncovering and preserving the narratives of Iraqi refugees and migrants (Panel)


There is a growing community of Iraqis in the United States. This community consists of different waves of migrants and refugees that fled Iraq in response to the different tragic episodes of recent Iraqi history. Whether it was the rise of a brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, or as a result of the 1991 Gulf War, or the ensuing sanctions regime that devastated the Iraqi population, or the most recent invasion, occupation, and devastation that followed, each event created a new wave of refugees and migrants. The result is the emergence of an extensive transnational Iraqi community that spans the globe including different parts of the United States. These communities in addition to representing different segments of Iraqi society, were part of social movements, grassroots organizations, political parties and other civil society groups who had to flee or migrate due to the repression they faced because of the very ideas that they held. Indeed, each community is a dossier of lost dreams, histories of a world otherwise.

This panel consists of four founding members of the Iraqi Oral History project. Still in its first year, the project has grown nationally with participants across the United States. The project started as an effort to collect broadly the stories and historical artifacts of Iraqis living in the United States. The four papers will present some of the themes collected from the oral histories as well as reflect on the very process of collecting these stories. The panel will have these overarching questions: 1. How does war and state repression foment communal mistrust and breakdown social solidarities? 2. What are the consequences of being a refugee on one’s political subjectivity? 3. What are the consequences of uncovering hidden stories about a distant birthplace for second and third generation individuals who are taking part in the oral history research?

Friday, October 14, 2016 2:15 PM

The Trailblazing Australian Women Lawyers Oral History Project: interdisciplinary approaches to collecting and interpreting women’s narratives of lives in the law (Panel)

Kim Rubenstein, Principle Investigator, The Trailblazing Women and the Law Project


The Trailblazing Women and the Law (TBWL) Project funded, in part, by the Australian Research Council, will create, showcase and analyse the oral history of seven decades of Australia’s pioneer, ‘trailblazing’, women lawyers. The TBWL Project features over 50 whole of life oral histories and an online exhibition, featuring the biographical details of over 300 women nominated as trailblazers and significant contributors to law and society in Australia. The project brings together the interdisciplinary fields of gender, oral history, biography, digital humanities, social and cultural informatics,law and citizenship and explores how women’s gendered, classed and racialized identities shape their personal, public and professional lives. This panel will discuss the various methodological and ethical issues the research team has encountered in the course of the three year project, and will demonstrate the range of outcomes relevant to legal history, oral history theory and digital humanities that have been produced across the life of the three year project.

Saturday, October 15, 2016 8:30 AM

Oral History Education and Reconciliation: International Reflections on Curriculum and Pedagogy



The theme of this panel responds to this time of reconciliation, when the telling and hearing the stories of lived experiences of harm are pivotal to struggles for an equitable future. Historical narratives, inclusive of peoples’ everyday voices, serve a public pedagogical function that can be transformative for law, policy, and citizenship. Government commissions, the judicial system, and para-public institutions seek oral histories in an effort to redress harm (e.g. Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, There is an international movement to draw upon oral histories in processes of redress of segregation, apartheid, forced migration, genocide, and other human rights abuses (e.g. Henderson & Wakeham, 2013). Educators have sought to reconceptualize (and not without limits) the curricular and pedagogical ways in which history is now taught inside and outside of public schools (e.g. Smith, 1999; Stearns et al., 2000; Levstik & Barton, 2011; Sandwell & Von Heyking, 2014). In a sense such changes during these times of reconciliation are working toward storying a different kind of (national) historical consciousness. Responding to these shifting historical and contemporary disciplinary contexts, a number of scholars and history educators have and continue to argue that the role of history education is less about instilling knowledge of historical particulars–events, persons and dates–and more about developing “historical consciousness” amongst young people (see Sexias, 2004). And yet, how are historians, history educators, and more broadly speaking educational researchers drawing on oral history research to address the curricular and pedagogical debates in terms of teaching history as praxis for storying the difficult knowledge of our past? And, how does oral history education lend itself to the potential redress of historical harms? This panel addresses these questions from international contexts and by providing specific examples of the intersections of oral history, reconciliation, and curricular/pedagogical innovation.

Saturday, October 15, 2015 10:15 AM

Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain (Roundtable)


The Palgrave Studies in Oral History has just published Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain, a collection of eleven original essays written in Spanish, Portuguese and English. The Series’ first volume of translated essays, the book crosses linguistic, disciplinary, and interpretive boundaries, showing a range of approaches to the analysis and presentation of oral material. Themes include: collective and individual memory, construction of individual subjectivities, visual representations of oral narratives, memories of war and political activism, women’s narratives, emotions and memory, migration, sex work, pedagogical uses of oral history, tattoos as auto-bio-graphical inscriptions, reshaping national narratives, and oral history performance. Rina Benmayor (US) – coeditor. Interdisciplinarity and the importance of translation. Pilar Dominguez (Spain) – coeditor and author. Individual and collective memory among trade union workers in Spain at the end of the Franco dictatorship. Joana Maria Pedro (Brazil) – author. Gendered narratives of former women militants in revolutionary movements in the Southern Cone. Miren Llona (Spain) – author. Emotions and “enclaves of memory,” in the narrative of a Basque nationalist woman. Joana Craveiro (Portugal) – author. The use of oral histories, archival documentation, and audience discussion in a performance-lecutre piece on the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal.

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Education Committee Blog

Linking Research and Teaching: International OH in the US Classroom

Dr. Amber Abbas
Assistant Professor of History
St. Joseph’s University
July 2016

One of the wonderful things about oral history research is that you can do it anywhere in the world. With a well-conceived project, some portable recording equipment and a lot of patience, your research depends on people, not institutions. The bulk of my oral history interviews have taken place in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and I have been lucky to be able to travel throughout South Asia as I collected them and explored the histories my narrators recounted.

When I began teaching, though, I faced a conundrum. How was I supposed to teach oral history in South Asia to American undergraduates in the United States? As a historian, my interests and expertise are distinctly rooted in South Asian experience, but I clearly could not take my students to South Asia (at least not right away). Lucky for me, from 2000-2010 South Asians were the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States, increasing in population at a rate of 81% over the decade. I shifted my focus to South Asians in the United States and designed an oral history project that focused on South Asian Migration.

At about the same time, a new digital resource came online that has been indispensable to my work: The South Asian American Digital Archive. The archive did not contain any oral histories, but their mission was to collect artifacts of many kinds that preserve the history of South Asians in the United States since their arrival over one hundred years ago. I contacted SAADA to ask if they might be interested in oral histories created by my students? The answer was yes, and thus began an ongoing partnership. My students must locate a migrant from South Asia who came to this country under their own power (not brought as a child by an adult) from a South Asian country. After students design, conduct, record and transcribe their interviews SAADA considers them for inclusion in the archive. This gives the students’ work a life beyond the classroom and helps to build the archive of South Asian experience that SAADA sustains.

The first time I taught the class, as a graduate student in 2012, I established the model I have used since. The course has focused on the history of South Asian migration, and students also learn oral history methodology through reading key OH texts like Paul Thompson’s The Voice of the Past. They read sources that incorporate oral histories, they listen to existing oral histories. About halfway through the class they begin to design their questionnaire. We refine it together, with the goal of engaging the we have learned about in the history of migration and the best practices of oral history so that students might listen carefully to the stories their narrators tell. After transcribing the interviews, the class has created a small oral history collection that becomes the source material for interpretive final papers.

I have found, as have many others who have worked with college students and oral histories, that the students find the experience transformative. It “humanizes” history for them, makes it more tangible. But I have also struggled with students’ interpretive abilities. It is a challenge to get them to listen for the story behind the story, to do the sophisticated work of listening for meaning drawn from the past into the present. The majority of South Asian migrants that they have located are upwardly mobile, highly educated, upper class. Their stories are not, on the surface, stories of struggle. Though these voices are underrepresented in American spaces, they tell familiar stories of the American Dream. The students have been dazzled by the success stories of a group often seen as a “model minority” and have not always heard the stories of discrimination, loss and grief that often lurk within.

To address these challenges, as I prepare to teach the class again in spring 2017, the focus will shift. Students will continue to interview South Asian migrants to the US, but I will coordinate with a local refugee community in Philadelphia. This will lift the pressure on the students to locate their own narrators, provide some shared characteristics among narrators, and hopefully present stories that challenge the prevailing stereotypes of the South Asian “model minority.” Above all, it will help to give these underrepresented communities a voice as SAADA continues to partner with me to bring these stories to the public.

In the past, the balance of content in the class was on the history of South Asians, now it will be on oral history. I am putting together a reading list on designing projects, giving back to the community, listening. I welcome your suggestions in the comments section below!

As an educator, it is always a challenge to link research and teaching, and the challenge is especially acute when as an oral historian working outside the United States, it is not easy to take students into the field. However, with a slight shift in focus, a great community partner, and a supportive department (that, among other things, has allowed me to purchase high quality recording equipment) it is possible to bring the field to students. As an oral historian, I can work anywhere. In 21st century America, the world is often right on our doorstep if we can step out of our comfort zones to find it.

Check out Amber’s blog post from 2012 for the South Asian American Digital Archive after teaching the oral history class for the first time, as a graduate student.
Find a lesson plan describing her oral history and South Asian Migration class including bibliographies.

SAALT. “A Demographic Snapshot of South Asians in the United States.” news release, July 2012.

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International Committee Blog

Oral History Association International Scholarships

Sixteen international scholarship applications were received this year and the decisions on which to fund were very challenging for the committee. In the end, five scholarships were awarded:

Joana Craveiro, Portugal

Marella Hoffman, UK

Meera Anna Oommen, India

Annie Pohlman, Australia

Samantha Prendergast, Australia

Congratulations to you all! Your attendance and presentations at the Annual Meeting will indeed be of great interest to those in attendance.

Below are the abstracts of three of the awardees papers/presentations. This month we feature Joana Craveiro, Portugal, Marella Hoffman, UK and Meera Anna Oommen, India. Last month we featured Annie Pohlman and Samantha Prendergast, both of Australia.

Joana Craveiro, Portugal

ROUNDTABLE: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain

The Palgrave Studies in Oral History has just published Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain, a collection of eleven original essays written in Spanish, Portuguese and English. The Series’ first volume of translated essays, the book crosses linguistic, disciplinary, and interpretive boundaries, showing a range of approaches to the analysis and presentation of oral material. Themes include: collective and individual memory, construction of individual subjectivities, visual representations of oral narratives, memories of war and political activism, women’s narratives, emotions and memory, migration, sex work, pedagogical uses of oral history, tattoos as auto-bio-graphical inscriptions, reshaping national narratives, and oral history performance.

Rina Benmayor (US) – coeditor. Interdisciplinarity and the importance of translation.

Pilar Dominguez (Spain) – coeditor and author. Individual and collective memory among trade union workers in Spain at the end of the Franco dictatorship.

Cristina Wolff (Brazil) – author. Gendered narratives of former women militants in revolutionary movements in the Southern Cone.

Maria Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez (Spain) – coeditor and author. The Biographical Narrative Intepretive Method in interviewing and analyzing professional identity formation in times of economic crisis.

Miren Llona (Spain) – author. Emotions and “enclaves of memory,” in the narrative of a Basque nationalist woman.

Alberto del Castillo (Mexico) – author. Journalistic photographers of the 1968 Tlateloco student massacre interpret their images in the present.

Marella Hoffman, UK

A New Development – Using Oral History to Improve Public Policies and Programs

This paper describes a new development in applied oral history that is spreading fast around the world, bringing new relevance, career opportunities and funding for oral historians. In fields from agriculture to law enforcement, ecology to town planning, oral history is increasingly being used to shape public policy-making and improve public programs.

This presentation – the first to explain this new direction – provides a ‘How To’ guide demonstrating how oral history is used in public policy. It provides case studies illustrating why oral history has become so effective in these contexts. It also explores why this movement is still largely below the radar of mainstream oral history, not yet recognized as a new phase in the historical evolution of the field. It suggests that these policy projects may even be the first truly ‘applied’ use of oral history, explaining why earlier oral history projects might be better described as ‘engaged’ rather than fully applied.

The presentation shows how oral historians can help to do this work in socially beneficial ways, train policy professionals in oral history skills, and navigate the ethical issues involved. It also shows oral historians how to package the measurable impacts of their projects in ways most valued by public policy funders.

The speaker worked in public policy for two decades before integrating oral history into that work. As a policy insider, she shows why this is seen as a growing, money-saving practice that helps generate twenty-first century solutions for the complex policy challenges ahead. The paper helps oral historians situate their skills within this movement that’s sweeping through government, industry, technology and social policy. This engaging, transdisciplinary presentation uses multimedia and audience-participation to give both local and global perspectives, and to offer positive futures for oral history and its practitioners in the decades ahead.

Meera Anna Oommen, India

The Elephant in the Room: Settler Memories of Famine and Wildlife Conflict Underlie Resistance to Conservation in an Indian Forest Fringe

Conservationists generally view local communities as problematic elements and focus on contemporary issues with little appreciation of the continuing role of historical processes in motivating resistance to forest and species protection. This paper traces the evolution of conservation conflict in a forest fringe landscape in the Western Ghats hotspot of southern India where migrant settlers practicing marginal agriculture oppose conservation through retaliatory killings of charismatic species and everyday acts of resistance. We analyze these actions in view of the cumulative impact of two traumas which impacted

this community: (1) impoverishment, famine and subsequent dislocation from their native villages, followed by (2) protracted conflict with crop-raiding elephants in their new settlements in the hills.

We trace these experiences through an analysis of oral histories of first and second generation settlers. Displaced by unemployment and localized famines catalyzed by the Second World War, impoverished villagers from Central Travancore were encouraged by the erstwhile princely state and its newly independent counterpart to clear mountain forests for food production. For the migrants, their new home proved to be a harsh and impenetrable frontier, whose hostility was compounded by the unwelcome presence of elephants. Settler remembrances are dominated by memories of daily elephant raids on their settlements which forced them to construct houses in the safety of tall forest trees. While famine has been a long-forgotten story in the plains, it has remained a recurring narrative in the memories of settlers, urging an inordinate focus on food crop cultivation despite poor returns. Contemporary conflict is, therefore, a complex ongoing narrative characterized and fueled by the persistence of memory. By ignoring historical contingencies and privileging only the claims of indigenous residents such as forest-dwelling tribal communities, conservation interventions in the Global South, especially those promoted by international agencies, often overlook the elephant in the room.

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Education Committee Blog

Teaching History, Empathy, and Understanding through Oral History

By Erin Conlin & Christine Baker

In many Americans’ minds, the Middle East is inextricably linked to terrorism and upheaval. We often hear horror stories in the news about violence, chaos, and general turmoil. Most of us are far removed from the situation. Hearing only the negative news easily breeds fear and suspicion of people who appear to be very “different” from “us.” This raises an important question for historians. What can we do to teach content and help students overcome feelings distrust or antipathy so they better understand the world today? As educators and historians we should develop activities that build knowledge, understanding, and empathy.

Dr. Christine Baker undertakes this challenge every semester. As the Middle Eastern historian at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), Dr. Baker teaches a variety of courses that cover different periods and people within the Middle East. This past spring semester (2016), she taught a Modern Middle East class. Most students enrolled in the class had limited knowledge of the region or its people (past or present). IUP draws largely on students from Western Pennsylvania. Most live in small towns with relatively homogenous populations, and few students have interacted with anyone from the Middle East.

Dr. Baker uses a variety of teaching and historical methodologies to engage her students. She approached me about incorporating an oral history component since I am the department’s oral history specialist and coordinator for the IUP Oral History Program. Dr. Baker and discussed the logistics and goals of the class, starting with the goals of the project and identifying how many interviews she hoped to have her students conduct. She identified potential intervieews by networking with Middle Eastern students she knew from previous classes and she asked both IUP’s International Office and the Muslim Student Association to email students to request participants.

For this blog post, I asked Dr. Baker to reflect various aspects of on the experience. (She was traveling at the time so we communicated in writing rather than doing an oral interview.) We selected a few segments to illustrate how oral history can be incorporated into a traditional content-driven history course and highlight the different purposes it serves and opportunities it provides.

Why did you want to do an oral history project with your students? What were your goals?

I had a few goals in mind with this oral history project. First and foremost, I wanted to teach my students about historical sources and how they’re ‘made’. I thought that this oral history project would achieve this because they’d be able to see how they were creating historical sources; by interviewing students from a minority (and sometimes maligned) community on campus, they had the opportunity to go beyond traditional media/scholarly sources about the Middle East or Muslims in America and

create something that future historians may be able to use. In doing this, I encouraged them to think about what kinds of sources are traditionally available to historians and the ways that some people and groups are often ‘left out’ of those sources. In addition, I wanted them to compare what they had learned about the Middle East from scholarly and media sources that with the way that people from the region would talk about what was going on.

Dr. Baker then elaborated on the need to teach undergraduate students to “consider the nature of expertise and the need to interpret evidence.” Part of this process entailed evaluating an interviewees’ testimony and determining what elements were fact-based and which were opinions. She noted with the 2016 election around the corner, this is a valuable skill for students and general citizens alike. If we can teach students how to do this in a structured class setting, they will eventually learn how to apply it to other facets of life.

In addition to teaching students useful analytical skills, the project would also

humanize “the Middle East,” by giving students studying the history of the region an opportunity to interact with someone from the area. Dr. Baker noted, “Especially with the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric in the US right now, I thought it was important to have them actually meet Muslims and people from the Middle East to learn that they are also multifaceted real people, not some kind of caricature.” It’s worth noting recent studies have found that simply interacting on a personal level with someone of another race or ethnicity is most effective at combating negative stereotypes or attitudes. Providing students with opportunities to interact with different people on a personal level is one of the most valuable tools we have as oral historians.

I know we discussed possible issues of “tokenism” and concerns over making an interviewee feel like what they said represented everyone in their racial, ethnic, or religious group. What did you do with your students to help mitigate this issue?

I will admit, this was difficult and I am not entirely sure that I managed to really ‘solve’ this issue. I emphasized to my own students that their interviewees represented only one opinion on issues in the Middle East – and not necessarily a more informed opinion than they would find in the news or more scholarly sources. I talked to my students about their own knowledge of US politics and international relations and, of course, there was a spectrum of knowledge and interest – some of my students knew lots about politics and some knew nearly nothing. I reminded them that they were interviewing fellow IUP students – and that, just like we don’t expect other American students to be experts in US politics and policy, the Middle Eastern students they were interviewing would not necessarily be ‘experts’ on issues related to Middle East. I encouraged them to think of their interviewees as providing a ‘snapshot’ – just one person’s view of the region.

I also worked with my students to create an Interview Guide with them. We brainstormed questions as a class and discussed problematic questions (such as asking them to ‘explain’ regional conflicts). I emphasized that they were getting to know these students as individuals.

With the interviewees, I emphasized that students would be interviewing them as individuals, not as representatives for the region. Although I suspect that this was not wholly successful and they still felt the need to ‘explain’ their entire region, race, religion. But I think that this is more of an issue of being Muslim in the US right now, and less an issue about this particular assignment.

Students’ reactions to the activity varied, but most found it interesting and illuminating. As Dr. Baker noted, in some cases interacting one-on-one with a Muslim forced the interviewee to confront their own pre-existing views about Muslims. In particular they saw that Muslims, like people of any religious faith, vary in their level of devotion. Additionally, students often seemed to have an image of all Muslim students as defined nearly exclusively by their religion (and the most stringent rules of their religion), so it was eye-opening for them to see the diversity.

Some students actually became friends with their interviewees, which Dr. Baker considered to be another great benefit of the project. As she noted, international students can often feel kind of isolated on campus. She hoped bringing students together could help put different groups in contact with one another. For that reason, she also hosted a party at her house at the end of the semester for both the students in her class and their interviewees to thank the Middle Eastern students for participating (and, in part, to facilitate the development of relationships between the groups). Community-based oral history projects strive to foster a sense of community and to serve the interests of both the oral historians and the participants. Providing avenues for engagement outside the interview facilitates these goals.

We worked with students and their participants to determine the best course of action regarding their interviews and transcripts. Most participants agreed to have their interviews and transcripts archived and made available to the public. Since one of the goals of the course was to teach students about creating and interpreting sources, I concluded the interview by looking to the future and how the sources may be used.

How do you think future students could use the archived interviews?

I am hoping to do a longer-term project related to this – I hope to have future classes of students continue working on oral history projects with students from the Middle East. I think that, especially considering the rhetoric around Muslims in the US right now, it could provide an interesting snapshot of Muslim views of the US and American politics. I have also considered assigning the archived interviews as a source for future classes when they are researching conflicts in the Middle East and how Muslims react to them.

I also know that other faculty are considering using the interviews as a source – in Fall 2016, a sociology prof at IUP will be teaching a class on “Islam in the US” and may use the interviews as part of a larger assignment.

I am also hoping that they’ll be used by future students and historians who are interested in social life at IUP. I think that, in archives like this, it’s easy to focus on majority communities on campus and international students often get left out of them. So I hope that adding more interviews by international students will give a fuller picture of life at IUP.

Dr. Baker’s project illustrates how instructors can incorporate oral history in a more traditional content-driven course. It is an excellent tool for understanding and evaluating historical sources. It also provides students the opportunity to move beyond talking about how sources are created, to engaging in the actual process of making an historical source. Additionally, oral history projects can help humanize subjects, which makes it easier to apply classroom content knowledge to the real world. Students engaged in these types of projects may not be expert oral historians, and there may be some issues with the quality of the interview as a historical source. Nevertheless, the experiences students’ gain can help them to become more knowledgeable and thoughtful. The value of a liberal arts education resides in teaching students how to understand and interpret the world around them. Hopefully equipped with greater insight and empathy, our students will become aware and informed citizens and leaders.

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International Committee Blog

Oral History Association International Scholarships

Sixteen international scholarship applications were received this year and the decisions on which to fund were very challenging for the committee. In the end, five scholarships were awarded:

Joana Craveiro, Portugal

Marella Hoffman, UK

Meera Anna Oommen, India

Annie Pohlman, Australia

Samantha Prendergast, Australia

Congratulations to you all! Your attendance and presentations at the Annual Meeting will indeed be of great interest to those in attendance.

Between now and the Annual Meeting in October, the abstracts of the awardees papers/presentations will be highlighted in this blog.

This month we feature Annie Pholman and Samantha Prendergast, both from Australia.

Annie Pohlman, Australia

Small boxes of sexual crimes: turning oral histories into evidence for the International People’s Tribunal for 1965

This paper reflects on the process and ethics of turning individual life stories, told through oral history interviews, into evidence of crimes. Specifically, I reflect on my role in preparing evidence of sexual crimes for the International People’s Tribunal for 1965: a tribunal set up in 2015 in the Netherlands to achieve symbolic justice for crimes against humanity committed during the 1965-1966 mass killings in Indonesia. During these killings, an estimated 500,000 men, women and children were massacred, and more than one million others were rounded up and held as political prisoners. In the fifty years since these killings, the Indonesian state has yet to investigate or redress these crimes. The International People’s Tribunal for 1965 brought together survivors, researchers, artists and journalists from across Indonesia and around the world, who charged the Indonesian state with various crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement and torture.

The Tribunal also charged seven separate sexual crimes as crimes against humanity, including rape, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. My role in this Tribunal was to prepare evidence for the Prosecutor for each of these sexual crimes. This evidence was based on the oral testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses, gathered by Indonesian human rights organisations and researchers, as well as from my own oral history research over the last fifteen years.

This paper critiques the process of turning the life stories of individual survivors and witnesses into evidence for the Tribunal. Complex narratives of trauma and survival, told over hours, weeks or longer, were reduced to individual case files of crimes. Each case file – representing one person’s experience of one or more sexual crimes – contained information about the timing, location and people involved in the crime, and descriptions of the acts of sexual violence. The details were extracted from these personal stories to fill in small blank boxes of information for evidence. I argue that this process was one of intense mediation and obliteration. Evidence for the Tribunal was gained but at the cost of erasing much of the testimonies upon which this evidence was based.

Samantha Prendergast, Australia

They Never Recorded the Interviews: Transcripts from the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, 1950-51

Between 1949 and 1951, scholars from Harvard University’s Russian Research Centre conducted over 700 interviews with Soviet émigrés and refugees. Rather than record the conversations, which took place in Russian or Ukrainian, interviewers wrote detailed notes throughout the interviews and later audio-recorded their notes in English. The only surviving records are the non-verbatim transcripts of the interviewers’ audio-recordings. For the most part, contemporary Soviet historians use the Harvard Project transcripts as “depositories of fact.” I argue that when we read the transcripts closely and with a mind to their context, we can look beyond what the respondents recalled to examine how Soviet émigrés actively remembered the past. Framed as sources of oral history, the Harvard Project transcripts offer rich and novel insights both into the experiences of post-WWII Soviet émigrés and into how the émigrés made sense of their pasts.

Though the transcripts differ remarkably from contemporary oral history records, they nevertheless originated with aural interactions between interviewers and interviewees. By reconsidering the Harvard Project transcripts as records of oral life histories – and insisting that the life histories are valuable, despite the limitations imposed by the archive – I am proposing that we make space in historical research for documents that do not meet contemporary definitions of what constitutes an oral history record.

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International Committee Blog


Oral History Society Annual Conference, 8-9 July, 2016

Registration is now open for the OHS Annual Conference entitled ‘Beyond Text in the Digital Age?  Oral History, Images and the Written Word’.  The conference will be held at the University of Roehampton.  Keynote spears are Professors Mary Larson, Alessandro Portelli and Anne Valk.

Registration information can be found at:


XIXth International Oral History Conference, June 27-July 1, 2016, Bangalore, India

If you are planning to attend this conference, the following website has details on the conference scheduled, scholarships, registration, visas, accommodation and more:

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International Committee Blog

European Social Sciences History Conference – 30 March – 2 April, 2016 – Valencia, Spain

This conference continued the high caliber of organization and paper content that has become the hallmark of this conference.  Unofficial statistics for the Oral History Network reveal:  79 papers were accepted; 21 were rejected; 63 were published in the conference programme.  This is similar to the number in Berlin 2004 with 68; Amsterdam in 2006 with 61; Lisbon in 2008 with 66 and Vienna in 2014 with 64.

Leslie McCartney presented a paper on the reuse of archival recordings done by scientists in the 1970s and 2000s along with current recordings of residents’ observations of sea ice changes in the Chukchi Sea, making the point that existing oral history recordings residing archives and as collected today are very useful for scientists and local residents to discuss a changing climate.  All of the interviews and supplementary documentation are available on

Miroslav Vaněk presented there a his paper concluding general thoughts about developments of oral history on international ground, which were realized between two International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS) Congresses, San Francisco 1975 and Jinan 2015. Pavel Mücke tried to present the first research outputs from recent project of Oral History Center, Institute for Contemporary History (Prague) aimed to the oral history and contemporary history of traveling and tourism in Czechoslovakia before 1989. Their impression from Valencia were generally positive, a congress was organized very well and on high standard as it became usual on ESSHC platform, however they reflected some changes and shifts in also very well organized Oral History Network. A longtime co-chair Graham Smith (U.K.) passed his position to newly elected member, Malin Thor Tureby (Sweden), which will be co-chairing a next network sessions on Belfast ESSHC 2018 congress with chairs on duty, Andrea Strutz (Austria) and Anne Heimo (Finland). Because of limited space for Oral History Network in conference program (around 60-65 presenters in maximum) and a consequent non-accepting of several proposals before ESSHC 2014 congress held in Vienna, a lot of participants applied their papers for Valencia to other networks, which caused a considerably radical change in auditoriums, now much younger (with many Ph.D. students) and with full of first time presenters.

On a whole, the conference was very positively was perceived and evaluated at an Social Event with refreshments, co-organized by Graham Smith and David Beorlegui (Spain), which was held in Terra-Centre Social Club and visited by the majority of Oral History Network participants.


Upcoming International Summer School of Oral History in Prauge – September 5 – 13, 2016

Instructors will include Rob Perks (UK), Alexander von Plato (Germany), David King Dunaway (USA), Monika Vrzgulová (Slovakia), Miroslav Vaněk (Czech Republic), Pavel Mücke (Czech Republic) and other teachers from our Department of Oral History – Contemporary History.

Registration due by April 30, 2016

For more information

International Scholarship Applications Now Open

Applications to the Oral History Association Annual Meeting Scholarships can be found at

XIXth International Oral History Conference, June 27-July 1, 2016, Bangalore, India

If you are planning to attend this conference, the following website has details on the conference scheduled, scholarships, registration, visas, accommodation and more:

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Education Committee Blog

As an oral history educator, I always emphasize student self-reflection.  I always task my history students at Harford Community College to share their thoughts on how the oral history process impacted them personally and affected their perceptions of the history the narrator discusses.   In this self-reflection video clip, a recent student (Amber Turkin) reflects on the interview she conducted and the ways in which her oral history experience enhanced her understanding of our class on the 1960s.  Amber’s self-reflection demonstrates the power of oral history to make the past meaningful and relevant for students:


Amber’s self-reflection is posted on the Harford Voices oral history digital exhibition.


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