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International scholarship presentations at the 2015 annual meeting

Over the next three months, abstracts of papers to be given at this year’s OHA annual meeting in Tampa by International Committee scholarship recipients will be featured.

Sean Field, South Africa
Panel: Listening Compassionately, Mindfully, Empathically, and Cooperatively in Oral History Interviews
Presenting Author on individual submission: The Meaning, Practice and Limits of Empathy in Oral History

“Empathy”, interwoven with listening techniques, is a significant skill for oral historians across the globe. In this presentation, I hope to deepen our understanding of “empathy” while doing oral history fieldwork in a post-conflict society. Empathy is neither sympathy nor an emotion but a tool of understanding, which involves historically imagining specific points in time and space in the past that the story teller is communicating. My presentation will explore various interviewing examples and that empathy can be an effective tool of historical understanding for researchers working in a culturally diverse and multi-lingual context such as South Africa. But empathy has real limits and ethical risks, especially when interviewing people who have suffered past violence and the systemic oppression of apartheid. I will argue that a focused empathy that acknowledges and works through forms of difference within oral history dialogues not in search of a contrived reconciliation nor equality but with deep respect for contrasting views, ideas and knowledge forms between interviewer and interviewee is crucial. However, many oral history teachers tell their students that creating “rapport” is necessary but what does that mean in practice? The problem is when “rapport” is striven for as a mythically power-free or equal state between interviewer/interviewee, when supposedly hidden truths will be revealed or recovered. Rather, oral historians need to constantly navigate the shifting inter-subjective atmosphere that involves both emotional connectedness and disconnectedness, and which invests cultural, racial and other differences with much emotion. How we empathically facilitate interviewees’ efforts to “culturally translate” their memories and stories poses ethical challenges but paradoxically also opens up possibilities for learning more through cultural differences and emotional disconnectedness within oral history practice.

Adam King, Canada
Panel: Revealing Resilience: Workers’ Narratives of Life and Labor
Presenting Author on individual submission: Making Sense of Change: Sudbury Mine Workers on the 2009 Vale Strike

The mining industry has been historically central to Sudbury, Ontario’s economy. Over a long period of struggle, it also developed as a focal point of unionized workers. Beginning in the late 1990s a period of ownership changes began. Vale Inc. (a Brazilian corporation) and Xstrata (a Swiss corporation) eventually acquired ownership of Sudbury’s two largest Canadian-owned mining corporations, Inco and Falconbridge respectively. A period of downsizing and contract renegotiation followed, with the issues of pensions and pay rates for new hires figuring prominently. In January, 2014 I began interviewing unionized mine workers in Sudbury about their changed workplace relations following the international purchases of their employers, and a long, bitter strike in 2009 against Vale. This paper explores the contradictory narratives these workers used to explain this period of structural transformation, and their responses to it. Dealing specifically with the issues of national identity and class formation, international solidarity, and the history of unionized work in Sudbury, I utilize a collective memory studies approach to analyze workers’ process of meaning-making and recollection. Setting the remembering of the 2009 strike against Sudbury’s history of strikes and workers’ resistance, workers present complex, and at times contradictory, narratives of resilience, continuity, and exception. In this paper, I seek to analyze workers’ presentations and read them critically against the class restructuring that has taken place in Sudbury’s mining sector. While some important work has been done on the political economy of mining in Canada, little has been undertaken qualitatively on workers in this sector. Using oral history interviewing, in this paper I seek to fill this scholarly gap.

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2015 International Committee Scholarship Recipients

This year the Committee awarded $4,000 to international recipients to attend the 2015 Annual Meeting in Tampa this coming October.

The Committee received 11 applications and awards were made to 7 recipients. The awardees are:

Dzhanyl Bokontaeva from Kyrgyzstan

Sean Field, South Africa

Adan King, Canada

Carol McKirdy, Australia

Jorge Mercado, Puerto Rico

Jacky Moore, England

Christin Quirk, Australia

Over the next few months we will feature abstracts from these recipients.

Congratulations to all those who were awarded scholarships.

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June Education Committee Blog

From the Southern Oral History Program Blog:

Lumbee History Service-Learning Research Projects

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International Committee Blog for May

The International Oral History Association (IOHA) and the Oral History Association of India(OHAI) are pleased to be hosting the XIXth International Oral History Conference at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, India from 27th June to 1st July 2016.

The theme of the conference will be “Speaking, Listening, Interpreting: the critical engagements of Oral History” and we look forward to receiving abstracts under the following themes:

  • Oral History’s relationship to Anthropology
  • Oral history, Memory and Literary Studies
  • Engaging with History
  • Women’s History and Oral history
  •  Oral Narratives and Legal Studies
  • Oral History, Community Life and Critiques of Development
  •  Oral Narratives of Caste and Communities
  • Traditions, Folklore and History
  • Oral History in the Archives
  • Oral History, Gender, Politics and Oral Narratives
  • Orality, Memory and History
  • Oral History of Science

Call for Proposals: All abstracts need to be submitted before 30th July 2015.

We invite proposals in English and Spanish for the XIX International Oral History Association Conference. Proposals maybe towards a conference paper, a thematic panel or a workshop session. Proposals will be evaluated according to their oral history focus, relevance to the conference theme and sub-themes, methodological and theoretical significance, and sound scholarship. Participants are encouraged to incorporate voice, image, and digital media in their presentations.

If you are interested in participating, please send us a single page abstract including an outline of your paper and the following details:

  1.  Please indicate in the subject line, if the submission is in English or Spanish
  2. Name (with your family name in CAPITAL letters).
  3. Organisational affiliation
  4. Postal address
  5. Email and contact details
  6. Relevant sub-theme
  7. Whether an individual paper, thematic panel, workshop session or a performance*
  • Individual papers will be grouped by conference organizers into panels or workshops with papers that have a similar focus.

Thematic panels should contain no more than four presenters, preferably representing different countries.

Performance segments of no more than 30 minutes from oral history based performances.

Workshop proposals should identify an issue or focus for a workshop, proposal a structure and workshop leader(s).

Master Classes will be conducted before the conference by internationally recognized oral history practitioners.

Proposals for English or Spanish submissions can be sent to:

(Please mention in the subject line of the email if English or Spanish submission)

Important Deadlines:

  • 30th July 2015: submission of one page abstract
  • 15th September 2015: acceptance or rejection of proposals
  • 30th December 2015: receipt of papers for publication For any further queries, do write to

Registration Fees*:

  • Early Bird rates below to be availed before 26th February 2016.

Non IOHA Member (Professional) – 190 Euros

IOHA Member (Professional) – 160 Euros

Non IOHA Member (Student) – 90 Euros

IOHA Member (Student) – 70 Euros

Special Fees (For local participants) – 90 Euros

The registration fee includes:

  1. Attendance to the Inauguration Ceremony
  2. Attendance to all conference sessions, plenary panel sessions, events and workshops
  3. Conference papers on a pen drive and other conference material
  4. Lunch on all conference days
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Education Committee Blog

Oral History and Vulnerablity

by Cliff Mayotte


Renowned oral historian Alessandro Portelli refers to the optimal interview experience as a “mutual sighting” between interviewer and narrator. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I’d like to have a mutual sighting! Who wouldn’t? As an educator, I especially appreciate this as a necessary (and often challenging) goal between student and teacher. But with most worthwhile endeavors, these mutual sightings come with a certain level of risk. In order to see or be seen, one must be willing to be vulnerable, both as a narrator and interviewer. For many of us, and especially for someone like me who uses storytelling as a key element in education, it’s an example of teaching others what I most need to learn myself.

Throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, I have been socially conditioned to believe that vulnerability is a form of weakness. The message I received was that being vulnerable was way too risky and something I’d probably be sorry for later. As someone who often expresses himself in public (how ironic), I have often thought about the origins of this myth and who stands to gain by its perpetuation. I have a fair number of theories about this, but that’s a topic for another blog post.  And yet the fact remains that the work I do as an oral historian (and human being) counts on my willingness to enter a space in which I need to embody presence, openness, and vulnerability.

All of us want our stories to be listened to and appreciated, and have our experiences validated. A great number of us are also terrified at the prospect of this happening, or at the very least, extremely nervous about getting what we claim we want. Familiar responses include: What makes me so unique? Why would anyone want to talk to me? I’m probably not worth being listened to, anyway, and I’m going to do it wrong and make the interviewer unhappy. What’s worse, my anxiety about being interviewed sounds trivial and privileged compared with the many stories I encounter during a typical day at the office.

At Voice of Witness, we strive to share stories that might not otherwise be heard, and an individual’s desire to share their story can be tempered by justified instincts of self-preservation, such as “Why should I share my story with you? What are you going to do with it, and how will it help me?” We grapple with issues of agency and representation on a daily basis, which again, requires vulnerability, and humility. Being in the presence of such courage is eye opening, to say the least. In this regard, I’m confronted by yet another steep, personal learning curve.

A similar, mutual reality exists for the interviewer. It’s challenging to be an audience for someone else’s story—staying open, desirous of learning, actively listening, and suspending judgment regardless of the story’s content. Hearing about other people’s lives is complicated, and for many professionals like social workers, teachers, counselors, and oral historians, it brings up such questions as, Can you experience too much empathy? and What are we gaining from my perceived neutrality? Knowing this discomfort is a distinct possibility during the interview process, why would anyone want to participate in it? What are the benefits to this kind of vulnerability?

Well, in spite of the fears and anxieties I’ve grappled with as a narrator, interviewer, and teacher, I can say that the benefits of experiencing what I can only describe as “human moments” are pretty extraordinary. I’m recalling a time during an oral history workshop when I was interviewed by a group of undergraduate history students and I shared with them that I felt like a horrible imposter and was very uncomfortable being on their campus. Their school was such an impressive institution; I could not possibly belong in such a place. It was incredibly liberating, especially when many of the students said they felt the same way! The rest of our workshop took on a giddy tone of solidarity.

I’m also remembering a follow up interview for one of the books in the Voice of Witness series. This particular narrator had shared aspects of his story on numerous occasions and was probably thinking, “Why am I telling this story again?” As the interview progressed, and our connection increased, it became clear that our mutual willingness to be vulnerable created an opening for new details and feelings about his experience to emerge. Our interview concluded with hugs, gratitude, and sharing a meal.

While I continue to navigate my own vulnerability, and the ambiguities of seeing and being seen, I can say without hesitation that these risks and uncertain outcomes are well worth the possibilities for experiencing connection, astonishment, and joy. These are the opportunities I’ve been frightened of and have been yearning for in my life and work. Teaching what I most need to learn, indeed. Whether I was conscious of it or not, this ongoing dance with vulnerability has led me to the unpredictable and exhilarating form we call oral history.

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International Committee Blog

Annual Meeting Scholarship Applications:

The Oral History Association encourages applications from a diverse group of people who might contribute to the association’s annual meeting. We welcome scholarship applications from students, professionals, and community practitioners. International Scholarships are open to those on the Annual Meeting Program who live and work outside the United States. For presenter scholarships, papers must demonstrate superior oral history methodology and research to qualify for a scholarship. For non-presenter scholarships, funded applications will demonstrate how attending will benefit the recipient AND how such attendance would further oral history among a particular community or audience. International Scholarship Applications are due by May 1st. Please direct any questions to Please see the following link for more information: Please note that the Scholarship forms will be posted online soon and that through the OHA’s new membership system, email and social media announcements will be made when with the application forms are available.

European Social Science History Conference for Papers, Valencia 2016:

Call for papers: life stories and oral histories

Broadly, we want to encourage papers that explore the relationship between oral histories and the construction and analysis of life stories, both in terms of processes and outcomes. This, for example, might include the conceptual use and reuse of both oral histories and life stories in research, and/or considerations of the methods involved in both. We would encourage proposals that attempt to cross the oral history/life history divide (bringing the two research communities together).

We invite contributions that address the following key issues in method:

* Different approaches to questions and question design

* Interview relations (intersubjectivity as a dynamic interaction and building trust), this could include ‘remembering for the future’ and how awareness of potential reuse may shape interview encounters

* Life stories and the position and subjectivity of the researcher

* Analytical approaches to “truth”, remembering and the parameters of gaps and silences in narratives (told and untold topics)

* Visuality: the interrelation between verbal and non-verbal in the interview or life story

* The limits or parameters of interpretation and reuse

* Ethics of consent

We are also specifically interested in papers on the following topics:

* Environment, including climate change

* Post-repression narratives including narratives of migration

* Negotiating the private and the public in memory, including globalisation and the continuation of traditions

* Subaltern voices: life narratives ‘from below’

* Turning life stories and oral histories into public history

Finally, we welcome papers exploring the ‘future of the past‘; that might include the contribution of innovative contributions in archiving, curation, sharing authority and teaching to the future of oral history and life stories research.

Please note that our Network is often oversubscribed. If this is the case for the Valencia 2016 conference, the Network chairs will select in the first instance those abstracts that meet the themes highlighted in the call for papers. We will also only consider proposals that draw substantially on oral history and/or life story methods (and are research based). We will also prioritise papers that are of high quality, and/or innovative in argument or method.

Please note that proposals must be uploaded with required online registration NO LATER than May 1, 2015. Please also read the ESHHC guidelines at on proposing and presenting papers.

While we welcome proposals for panels these must be international in membership (and from different institutions), and each of their constituent papers must be of a high quality. The over-riding criterion for selection is strength of papers; if a proposed panel is not strong enough en bloc, the organisers will (as in 2014) consider the merits of papers individually.

Our Network does not favour discussants; so that if a panel proposal includes a discussant it should indicate why they wish to follow this format (and that if they do, the panel must comprise a maximum of four speakers plus a discussant). Sessions can have a maximum of five papers.

For more information see:

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Education Committee Blog

By Erin L. Conlin

Recent civil rights-era commemorations (like the 1965 march to Selma, AL) and present-day activists remind us that racial issues continue to challenge our nation. As oral historians, we are well positioned to foster better historical understanding and increase public awareness. Students, faculty, and staff affiliated with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida have spent the last eight years traveling to the Mississippi Delta gathering oral histories with civil rights activists. The Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP) has a rich collection of resources, including: over 180 interviews, documentary films, podcasts, curated collections, and recorded academic/activist panel discussions. MFP offers students an incredible service-learning opportunity. Students travel the Delta with longtime resident-activists learning about and producing history first hand. The collected testimonies, and projects produced utilizing those interviews, expand and enrich our understanding of the ongoing struggle for equality, freedom, and justice.

Find our more about the MFP at

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International Committee Blog for March

Annual Meeting Scholarship Applications to Open Soon:

The Oral History Association encourages applications from a diverse group of people who might contribute to the association’s annual meeting. We welcome scholarship applications from students, professionals, and community practitioners. International Scholarships are open to those on the Annual Meeting Program who live and work outside the United States. For presenter scholarships, papers must demonstrate superior oral history methodology and research to qualify for a scholarship. For non-presenter scholarships, funded applications will demonstrate how attending will benefit the recipient AND how such attendance would further oral history among a particular community or audience. International Scholarship Applications are due by May 1st. Please direct any questions to Please see the following link for more information: Please note that the Scholarship forms will be posted online soon and that through the OHA’s new membership system, email and social media announcements will be made when with the application forms are available.


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International Committee Blog

Call for Papers for Upcoming International Conferences:

ESSHC 2016

The European Social Science History Conference 2016 will be held at the Medical Faculty of the University of Valencia in Spain, March 30 – April 6, 2016. More conference information can be found at:

The conference features an Oral History and Life Stories network which strives to bring together oral historians and life stories practitioners who use oral histories to explore memory, narrative and history.

The call for papers is now open and should be submitted by the deadline of May 1, 2015. You are encouraged to contact the Chairs of the Network, to discuss your proposal prior to submission. The Chairs for the Oral History and Life Stories Network are:

Andrea Strutz, LBI for History of Society and Culture, University of Graz, Institute for History, Austria

Graham Smith, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

Anne Heimo, University of Turku, Finland

Oral History Association 2015

The 2015 Annual Conference of the Oral History Society will take place July 10 and 11, 2015 at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK. This conference will explore the theoretical and practical challenges of using oral history-based techniques in the broad areas of the histories of science, mathematics, engineering, technology and medicine. Please see for more information.

Deadline for proposals has been extended to January 21, 2015.

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December International Blog- Scholarship Recipient reflections on Annual Meeting

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee. This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kiev, Ukraine

Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey

Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada

Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada

Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

Unfortunately, due to visa issues, Tetiana Borka could not attend the conference. This month reports by scholarship recipients Sevil Cakir, Jo Roberts and Stacy Zembrzycki are highlighted:

Sevil Cakir

Title: Observations on the Everyday Experiences of Women in the Leftist Guerrilla Movements in Iran and Turkey in the 1970s

As a new oral historian from Turkey, I was looking for opportunities to meet more experienced oral historians to share and discuss all the questions I had in mind regarding this fascinating and revolutionary field of study. I also wanted to hear what they would think about my dissertation research project, “An Oral History of Guerrilla Women in Iran and Turkey in the 1970s.” Since the field of oral history is still in its infancy in the region that I am working on, I often feel isolated, lacking social as well as academic support from colleagues. Thus, when I saw the call for papers for the 2014 OHA conference, I thought that this would the perfect opportunity. I got even more excited and encouraged when I learned about the scholarship for international participants and decided to submit a proposal right away.

The conference provided me with much more than what I could have possibly asked for. I had never attended such a conference where the participants were so engaged, motivated, and openhearted. It was clear from the first moment on that it was not only sharing similar research interests, but also ideals, principles, and the spirit of activism which brought people together under the umbrella of a research method at the OHA conference. I truly felt at home. Attending numerous sessions on a wide range of topics from women’s activism in social movements to the role of oral history in social change made me think how lucky and right I was about choosing oral history not only as a method of study, but also as a theoretical framework. I am definitely looking forward to getting more involved in the future conferences.

Jo Roberts

Title: Stepping Out of the Collective Memory: Jewish Israelis Engage with the Palestinian Nakba

After the 1948 War, the founding story of the state that took shape in Jewish Israeli collective memory did not include the disquieting narrative of the Nakba, the forced exodus of some 750,00 Palestinian Arabs from the land during the war. Zochrot, a primarily Jewish Israeli NGO, challenges Israeli collective memory by working “to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public,” which, they believe, could “make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region.” Zochrot’s work is predicated on the power of story, allowing space for the Palestinian narrative of 1948 to emerge within the Israeli landscape, both physical and political. Beneath Zochrot’s work are the stories of individuals who have not only renegotiated their understanding of their country’s history but also of their own remembered pasts.

My paper was based on interviews and research from my recent book, Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel’s Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe. The book was a Finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards and was runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I was very grateful to receive the OHA scholarship, which enabled me to travel to the conference and present. The conference was a great opportunity to learn of the fascinating work being done by other oral historians. Thank you!

Stacy Zembrzycki

Title: Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice

The roundtable in which I participated at this year’s Oral History Association (OHA) annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, titled “Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice,” had its roots in a methodology-based collection, Oral History Off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice, that I co-edited and published in Fall 2013, as part of Palgrave MacMillan’s oral history series; this anthology went on to win the OHA’s prestigious 2014 Book Award. The intent of the roundtable was to create an open and honest space in which presenters and participants could discuss and debrief about the humbling moments and failures they have all experienced in the field. We rarely, as practitioners, get a chance to publically reflect upon how these incidents impact our learning, namely the development of our craft and the honing of our skills. I am happy to report that the roundtable, composed of Janis Thiessen, Margo Shea, Sherna Berger Gluck, Anna Sheftel, and me, drew a large crowd and enabled us to collectively reflect upon a whole host of issues that rarely come up in public discourse pertaining to oral history: What happens when we don’t connect, or worse, don’t like an interviewee? How should we respond to racism and other abhorrent comments that our interviewees make? What should we do when our oral history practice threatens to replicate instead of complicate the very structures of power we hoped to challenge in our projects? And, does misinterpreting “shared authority” as “sharing authority” result in unnecessarily “humbling moments”? In other words, as Janis Thiessen asked, does awkwardness/antagonism/embarrassment require explanation and/or analysis or are we just doing our job as oral historians? These were all large and complicated issues, and although we did not arrive at any one answer, we worked together as panelists and with our audience members (who live tweeted their questions and responses throughout the session: to deeply delve into these issues, ask more questions, and ponder the particular implications of our diverse and unique set of

experiences in the field. The OHA’s International Scholarship made it possible for me to attend the meeting, participate in this incredible roundtable, and to personally accept the 2014 Book Award.

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