Oral History Meetings


“Art and Migration:  Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles”
International Conference, Genova, Italy April 2-4, 2009
[Convened by Alessandro Dal Lago, Luisa Del Giudice, Thomas Harrison;
Sponsored by the Università di Genova, UCLA International Institute, RAMSES – project of the European Union]

This report of the 2009 Watts Conference in Genova, Italy attempts to be merely descriptive and not to express a consensus of opinion on either the meaning of the Watts Towers or the overall outcome of the conference itself.

Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles, a historic meeting devoted to one of the most significant works of art and architecture of the last century, and to the Italian immigrant artist who created them, took place at the Università di Genova, Italy, from April 2-4, 2009.  By all accounts the international academic conference provided participants a rare opportunity to consider the monument and its maker across a diverse spectrum of disciplinary perspectives.  Artists, sociologists, architectural historians, ethnologists/folklorists, oral historians, filmmakers, scholars of literature and cinema, community activists, heritage and conservation specialists, as well as civic arts administrators came together to take historic stock of a unique artist and his highly idiosyncratic work of art.  They acknowledged the artwork’s enduring mysteries (why did Rodia build them and what do they mean?), they suggested new directions for research and finally, they agreed to reassemble in Los Angeles in the Fall of 2010 to continue the fruitful exchange of ideas begun in Genova.  Plans are also underway to gather some of the conference papers for publication in order to render the results of this exchange more tangible and broadly accessible.

A novel feature of this gathering was that it took place under the rubric of “Art and Migration,” adding a welcome new dimension to the Towers’ multiple meanings and discursive power.  Participants considered Rodia and his Towers within the context of global migrations, contested social and urban spaces, the relations of art and economic development, the imaginaries of local, traditional, and Italian (North and South) American immigrant cultures.  At the same time, careful consideration was given to Rodia’s individual artistic and architectural genius, to the theoretical and conceptual implications of this work, to its place in the history of art, and to the multiple challenges of conservation and administration that art environments such as the Towers pose.

Following introductory papers by the conference organizers, formal presentations were divided into four sections:  1)  The Community of Watts and its Monument:  Physical, Socio-Economic and Political Realities; 2)  Art Environments, Vernacular Traditions, and their Imaginaries; 3)  Italian Migrations:  Literary, Artistic, and Visual Legacies; 4)  Reproducing Nola.  (Please see detailed program). The conference also offered opportunities for viewing several documentary films on the Watts Towers (Edward Landler and Brad Byer:  I Build the Tower—simultaneously translated for the audience into Italian; Tom Koester, 3-dimensional: The Watts Towers, which entailed heroic technical support from across Italy (Udine); as well as the account of the history and development of the Watts Towers Art Center, by Rosie Lee Hooks and S. Pearl Sharp:  Fertile Ground: Stories from the Watts Towers Arts Center, narrated by Congresswoman, Maxine Waters).

Because the best academic meetings foster open dialogue (which is their very raison d’être), our gathering was not without lively debate.  (Indeed, the Watts Towers have engendered controversy from their very inception.)  Speakers engaged in a sometimes pointed exchange of ideas despite limited time dedicated to discussion, question and answer. Such exchanges continued outside the conference room into hallways, onto terraces, and over meals.  Given the many administrative, civic, nonprofit, arts, and conservation entities responsible for or affiliated with the Watts Towers, it is not surprising that they have alternatively collided, aligned, and/or mutually reinforced one another over the span of decades.  Some of this disagreement however, may be structurally entrenched (e.g., the City as opposed to the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts over conservation methods and management; the City of L.A. administration as opposed to the local community of Watts on issues of economic development).  Other dichotomies may have evolved synergistically (e.g., Watts Towers Community Arts Center vis-à-vis the Rodia Towers, separate yet symbiotic units).  The challenge that emerged from the Genova conference, and as it might appear to third-party observers, is that of bridging divergent discourses and goals, and fostering and/or creating “common ground.” The continued wellbeing of this much-loved Los Angeles structure and icon, and of the Watts community too (which has respected and cared for them for decades), seems to depend on it.

The most debated issues of the conference (despite, once again, the limited time devoted to debate), pertained to the first and fourth panels.  Panel 1 reviewed the history of ownership, the role of various state, city, and arts agencies, and the challenges of funding conservation of the Towers.  The well-known Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts (CSRTW)—the very Committee that saved the Towers from demolition in 1959 (and which this October will commemorate its 50th anniversary)—was not present to represent its current perspective on the Towers.  However, the CSRTW provided conference organizers in advance with a one-page, 10 point-summary of objections to the current status and/or methods of Tower conservation, which was circulated.  Given the already set conference schedule, there was not as much time to discuss these points as some would have liked.  Many conference participants expressed the desire to achieve greater clarity about these issues of concern (e.g., perhaps by receiving a studied response to the ten points from administrators and conservators, or by engaging in a guided visit of the Towers site itself). No collective plans were formulated in Genova, however several were aired informally (in conversation with City representatives).  Certainly, after reviewing the precarious situation of other art environments (e.g., in Spain), many of which have been neglected and are even currently in process of demolition, the attention the Watts Towers receive might appear fortunate by comparison.  Rodia’s Towers enjoy the benefit of a concerned and pro-active community, conservators, an adjacent art center, and international attention!

Another issue of great interest and curiosity, but also of indirect contention, revolved around the Italian content of Rodia’s work:  e.g., the relevance of the relationship between the Towers of Rodia and the festive Gigli of Nola.  How exactly does the work of this “independent” or “outsider” artist respond to his specific cultural heritage, to his immigrant experience, and worldview?  Granted that Rodia displayed identifiable marks of an Italian/American folk esthetic, artisan work traditions, motifs and themes, as well as an immigrant worldview, is the application to the Towers of a potentially “essentializing” discourse of ethnicity problematic?  The fault line on this issue seemed to divide Italian or Italian American scholars of ethnology and American immigration studies from others interested in framing art and architecture within the broader context of Modernism and/or global migration studies.  In light of the celebration of Rodia’s “Italianness,” historic and contemporary migrations were highlighted by way of a poignant comparison of the U.S. and Italy:  would the building of an artwork such as Rodia’s Towers, by an immigrant, be tolerated today in Italy?  The implicit answer offered was:  no.

Besides enjoying a relaxed and casual meeting, participants in the Genova conference on the Watts Towers also had time to interact informally at social events:  e.g., lunches in the beautiful reception room of the Facoltà di Scienze della Formazione (Dept. of Anthropology), with its terrace looking out towards the mountains, an elegant convivial portside dinner on the first night, at the restaurant “Tre Merli” (with the recurring “pesto alla Genovese” theme).  Other activities included a guided walking tour of the city and its extraordinarily rich Turn-of-the-Century Art Nouveau architecture (known as Stile Liberty in Italian), concurrent exhibitions on Fabrizio De André, the noted Genovese singer-songwriter and poet (1940 – 1999) at both the Ducal Palace and the  hotel lobby of the restored 17th-century Palazzo Cicala, directly across from the cathedral of San Lorenzo—which offered the ecclesiastic spectacle of a Palm Sunday celebration on its front steps on April 5.  Participants were also treated to another Italian spectacle of sorts, in the form of a strike of ambulatory vendors (protesting new city ordinances), which brought the city center to a complete standstill on April 2, as participants wended their way on foot to the University for our conference opening event.  Finally, all were treated to Paul Harris’ unforgettable performance of his “Alpha Rap,” a poem called “Sam’s Ark: An L.A. Landmark,” whose exclusive use of the vowel A pays tribute to the architectural outline of Rodia’s tower structures.

This conference demonstrated that Rodia and the Towers continue to inspire scholarly analysis, induce animated discussion, and foster controversy—testimony to the fact that they matter passionately to so many, representing as they do a site of extraordinary human creativity, resilience, and redemption.  This, some conference participants concluded, may well be the “common ground” which gives this unique civic icon the ability to bridge the many “continental” divides determined by class, race, ethnicity, and migration status.  To focus on such common ground (rather than on heightened fault lines) may be for Angelinos a welcome occasion for civic re-engagement, compassionate action, and renewed concern for issues of social equity.

Building on the momentum generated by the Genova conference, initial work is already underway to create a multimedia festival and conference entitled “The Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative,” scheduled for Fall 2010.  While re-affirming and re-focusing attention on the extraordinary Rodia and his Towers locally, this occasion will also address questions of art, migrations, human and community development, and endeavor to create partnerships and collaborative art, theater and music projects, across cultural, geographic, and socio-economic borders throughout the city (contact organizer). The Towers have become a symbol of creativity and sustained resolve under adversity.  They also stand as a source of identity and history to its local African American and Latino communities.  How can the Towers be embraced by all Angelinos?  Further, how can the many economically-depressed “Watts”-like neighborhoods on our urban landscape benefit from art and community development, especially those that have no Towers?  Increased visibility for and a celebration of the Towers can only help lead us out of our current existential and societal dilemmas.

Luisa Del Giudice [email protected]
Conference Coorganizer



Third International Meeting of Oral History “Rescuing Our Peoples’ Memory,”
Nicaragua, Managua, February 2009
General Summary

The wide range of involvement was impressive. In all, fourteen Latin American countries participated, from which the foreign participants shared and discussed their presentations in a total of 12 round tables organized in 6 subjects which raised the following discussion points

Topic I “Theory, methods and research techniques in Oral History”, Seven papers were presented which raised three major concerns:

  1. The importance of Oral History to hear reports allowing dissenting memories and its mechanisms of transmission.
  2. The different ways in which memory and history have shaped the dominant versions of memory which are contentious or merely different.
  3. Highlighting the dialogue between the photographic image, the newspaper article and the oral testimony.

Topic II “Daily life, memory and testimony,”

Fourteen papers were presented, exploring the role of identity in the process of building the dimension of everyday life, memory and testimony.

Topic III The memory space community, local, and global development processes, with 20 communicants participating, concerning the conclusions listed as follows:

  1. Oral History was recognized as a valuable resource for historians of contemporary society’s official historiographical topics.
  2. A large number of exhibitors complemented oral history methodology by using documentary sources.
  3. In the papers, memory was considered through the use of various forms of interviews, non-directed or structured.
  4. Training, recovery and preservation of local identity, gender, political, religious, national and / or ancestral was ever present in all the topics discussed.

Topic IV: “The time of memory, experience lived or recalled and impunity,” Eleven papers were discussed, during which time, a concept that defines the story, is considered promoting discussion on the political experience of the subject in different political and social organizations, in forced exile and their silence, the result of Latin American dictatorships.

Topic V Teaching of Oral History, formal and informal educational experiences, ” Seven papers touched on educational experiences through formal and informal Oral History teaching. The concept of oral history, gender, and methodological expectations concerning the use of oral history in education were also discussed.

Topic VI “Archiving Memory” These six papers dealt with not only the concerns of applying the best techniques for preserving and consulting oral archives, but much more aware of the researchers, teachers, students and cultural workers, and the enormous challenge of creating resources.

The resolutions of the third General Committee should also be mentioned. Our colleagues unanimously agreed to endorse the proposals of Dr. Juan Luis Martín Chávez, Secretary-Executive Board of the National Council of Social Sciences, Cuba regarding the following:

  1. A proposal to the UNESCO Regional Office, the development of Oral History, carried out by field researchers, to encourage the Program of Social Development in the Region.
  2. Develop an Oral History program to analyze the cultural identity of the region and also incorporate the creation of a Word Archive.
  3. Encourage dissemination through workshops, seminars, courses in secondary education and university level, the various methodologies and theories of Oral History.
  4. Foster communication and inter solidarity to share knowledge and practices, so as to meet the first level of each country, which is done in the field of Oral History and then at the regional level.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the coordinating officers who contributed their individual reports: Antonio Montenegro, University of Pernambuco, Brazil; Gerardo Necoechea, Directorate of Historical Studies INAH, Mexico; Mirta Barbieri of the University of Buenos Aires; Maria Luisa Iglesias, University of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain;  Ricardo Avilés; Department of History, UNAN, Nicaragua; Marcela Camargo of the University of Panama; Alejandro Pablo Pozzi, University of Buenos Aires; Sagrario Balladares, Department of History, UNAN, Nicaragua; Beatriz Regina Guimaraes, Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil; Mirna Pizarro of the University of Magallanes, Chile; Fabio Castro Collective Oral History, Colombia; Xiomara Pamela Rodríguez of the Pedagogical University Experimental Libertador Pedagogical Institute of Maracay, Venezuela and Alba Rodriguez of the Central Library “Solomon Selva of UNAN, Nicaragua.

Special thanks to Dr. Jilma Romero Arechavala, for her two years of tireless work, organizing this event, putting together a great team and seeking the support of many institutions to ensure that this meeting would take place.

Patricia Pensado [email protected]
Instituto Mora


Third Oral History Meeting, Managua, Nicaragua, 2009. “Recovering the Memory of our Peoples”

Oral historians recognize that this discipline has had to endure a long wait for academic recognition. A milestone we tend to cite is the IOHA creation in 1996 at the congress in Gottenberg, Sweden. Every two years, international conferences marked a diverse journey: Rio de Janeiro (1998), Istambul (2000), South Africa (2002) Rome (2004),Sydney, Australia (2006) and Mexico (2008). Thus, historians from many countries took on this practice.

Oral historians recognize that this discipline has had to endure a long wait for academic recognition. The milestone we tend to cite is cite is the IOHA creation in 1996 at the congress in Gottenberg, Sweden. Every two years, international congresses marked a diverse journey: Rio de Janeiro (1998), Istambul (2000), South Africa (2002) Rome (2004),Sydney, Australia (2006) and Mexico (2008). Along the road historians from many countries gradually joined on this practice.

While the USA is still the world leader in the field of Oral History with the widest academic acceptance and Europeans have made important methodological developments, the fundamental development today is the extraordinary growth of Oral History taking place in Latin America. Most research continues to be carried out in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, but many other nations are working in this area, and the number of countries participating in the meetings is noticeable. Just recently 12 Latin American countries attended  the Fifteenth Meeting of Oral History in Mexico, including countries without prior participation such as Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

This growing interest in Latin America is propelled both by the world meetings and by a movement that comes from within the countries of the continent. This is reflected in the organization of numerous national meetings (in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico) well attended by historians from fraternal countries. It is amazing the level of attendance, the interest and enthusiasm demonstrated by its participants.

The three international meetings in Latin America provided the main stimulus which attracted specialists from around the world. In the First International Meeting of Colombia (2005) it was agreed that meetings would be conducted in countries where the practice of oral history is relatively new, to encourage their scholars. This approach led to the Panama gathering (2007) and the recent Third Meeting in Nicaragua, which took place on February 16–21, 2009. The theme “Rescuing the Memory of our People” brought together researchers from 14 Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela) plus other practitioners from the USA and Spain.

As already noted in other meetings, the level of institutional support is still limited. Most of the research being carried out is rigorous, but limited to individuals or isolated groups, with limited academic acceptance on a structural level. This low institutional acceptance means our gatherings  are decisive because they provide an opportunity to share ideas and experiences. Historians also have resource problems  because they lack contact with other researchers. The creation of integrated and system driven archives is an urgent and pending task, if we are to promote a leap in quantity and quality of research. Both topics are closely linked: the institutionalization and creation of archives need to be mutually encouraged. That is the task that we have ahead of us.

Liliana Barela [email protected]
General Director of the Historic and Heritage Institute of Buenos Aires


3rd Oral History Gathering, Managua, Nicaragua, 2009

As in the past few years, Latin American and Caribbean countries have held Oral History meetings in different countries. This time the host country was Nicaragua, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, UNAN Managua hosted the III International Meeting of Oral History “Rescuing Our Peoples’ Memory” on February 16-18, and the event continued on February 19- 20 with some Oral History training workshops. The event took place at  Managua’s   “Rubén Darío” campus.

Organizing the meeting was a challenge at the UNAN of Managua, as Jilma Arrechavala Romero and the other coordinators, prepared the attendees to ensure the event’s success. Many participants attended from almost all of Latin America and the Caribbean: Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Spain, the United States and a contingent, of course, from Nicaragua. This impressive turnout showed the importance that Oral History has gained recently, with the addition of more studies. We hope future meetings will see staff and researchers from other Latin American countries also attend.

Throughout the three days, lectures and roundtable discussion sessions were held. There were book presentations and some participants shared their experiences. The presentations focused on several issues: Oral History and its methodology, daily life, health, social and political movements, neighborhood histories, agricultural or industrial. Some delegates presented work on the role of women in different fields.

Throughout the meeting we had the opportunity to attend shows where we could appreciate the rich cultural and artistic life of Nicaragua and its people. We also learned of its crafts, cuisine and dramatic landscape.

María Luisa Iglesias [email protected]
University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain)



Catalonia: Oral History Seminar “Oral Sources: The Classroom as a Space for Memory”

On the weekend of February 13th to15th I participated in the Oral History Seminar “Oral Sources: The Classroom as a Space for Memory”, in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. Deciding to do something meaningful of my four-day holiday, I arrived to the local high-school “F. Vidal I Barraquer” Friday afternoon, and I found a great environment of debate and production that would last for the next 48 hours. Tomás Biosca i Esteve, a Catalan oral historian who I had the chance to meet in the 2008 IOHA Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, was one of the main organizers of the event. He took the time to discuss it with many of us, students participating. Talking with me, he admitted his surprise when he saw people arriving to the Seminar from all over the Hispanic world: Northern and Southern Spain, Argentine, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and other European countries as well. The Seminar was originally conceived as a local event, to the point that many local participants made the effort last-minute to translate their presentations to Castilian Spanish, after having prepared them in Catalan. The good news behind Biosca’s surprise is that oral history continues to gain the attention of young students and professionals of the social sciences. Alternative ways of analyzing the past “outside of the Archives,” like the Italian micro history (born almost four decades ago) and the oral sources construction, serve as tools to deepen into the analysis made through more “consolidated” methodologies.

The first part of the Seminar corresponded to a workshop conducted by the oral history Argentine professor Laura Benadiba. She introduced me to oral history when I was a student in ORT high-school, in Buenos Aires. Her idea was to make all participants go through the process of conceiving an interview, formulating questions and finally constructing the oral source, starting with a given research subject. In this case, the research focused on “Childhood during the Spanish Civil War,” given the high possibilities we had, being in Tarragona, of finding survivors. Split into groups, the participants were guided through the details of the oral source construction process: how to pose the question, how to register the interview, the nuances presented by the narration of the interviewee, and so on. Susan Rose, professor and CSC director at Dickinson, met Benadiba in the mentioned IOHA Conference. They started planning a collaborative project between ORT and Dickinson. As a result, Dickinson will offer the Mini-Mosaic on Jewish Immigration to Latin-America, with a winterim trip to Buenos Aires.

The second part of the Seminar was fully dedicated to individual presentations on different oral history projects along the Hispanic world. I learned about the history of a community school (Ikastola) in the Basque Country constructed by its own students and alumni; about the methodology used by a professor in the Venezuelan countryside to teach Latin-American history; about the comparative study of the Spanish franquismo and the Argentine dictatorships carried out by Benadiba’s and Biosca’s students, and so on. The key note speaker, Giovanni Levi, opened this part of the Seminar with a lecture on the possibilities and limitations of alternative social sciences methodology. Levi is considered one of the fathers of micro history. His methods are reflected on many of his works: Inheriting Power: The Story of an Exorcist (1985), A History of Young People in the West (with Jean-Claude Schmitt, 1996), among others.

It was great to take my time outside of the classroom, during a weekend, to reflect on the research methods I want to adopt as a future social sciences professional. The Seminar I attended confirmed once more that research on the past and present of our societies is a lot about how creative and attentive we can be in interpreting what is in front of our eyes. To the increased production at unbearable rhythms that we as students are demanded in the university, methods like (but not only) oral history offer a pause for reflection, as well as the incorporation to our research of a point of view (that of the interviewee) which is usually very different from the “official history” that we find in many books and journals. Moreover, the various methods that force us, as researchers, to establish a close dialogue with our “study subject” will always lead us to engage our study in ways that other methods wouldn’t do. These tools are usually not a cage we are forced to fit in, they claim for their creative use by us, students.

Susan Rose [email protected]

Catalonia: Workshops in Oral Sources “From theory to practice. The classroom as a space for memory. Oral Sources  From theory to practice. Space as a class of memory. “
February 13-14, 2009 Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain

Until quite recently, history teaching was generally restricted to a rapid, superficial analysis of major developments of recent decades, a listing of governments and their major achievements. Moreover, issues such as Oral History were raised at the end of the program and consequently at the close of school, so generally the discipline could not even get the time it deserved.

Fortunately, in recent years contemporary history has taken a more prominent role in the curriculum. This inclusion means that students begin to understand and question in order to heal, at least part of the world in which they live. Thus teachers face the challenge of reconstructing history through other characteristics and processes.

At the same time we are faced with new dilemmas. First, how much of this recent past should we include and how can we incorporate it into our classes? This is the major challenge because of the complexity involved in analyzing the events of recent decades. There is also tension (ours and that of teachers) in how to redefine the past. Furthermore, our students bring their own “versions” of that past into the classroom, which may be the result of the redefined past of others.

Our aim in Tarragona was to open a dialogue and meeting place for teachers and researchers in response to their different cultural realities, dealing with current  everyday concerns. This search raised many questions concerning the topic of Oral History. How can we use Oral History in the classroom? Is it a classroom tool or methodological tool for research? How do we take on board the “objectivity issue” of oral sources? How do we work with the notion of “truth”? Such questions ultimately to be addressed in deciding how to use Oral History in the future.

We therefore propose this space for reflection and social experiences, as many times, given the demands of daily life, we do not always reflect properly on our own practices. Thus we think it is useful to consider how to use Oral History in classrooms, especially “why” and “how” this valuable tool can be incorporated into our teaching.

All the participants felt it was important to reflect on these issues because, despite believing in Oral History’s potential, many times, when put into practice, this methodology is considered a minor tool in the teaching of history. Thus there is a tendency to consider it a mere fad.

We believe that a unifying criterion does not mean everyone will work in the same way, but we assume a certain commitment that allows us to harness the wealth of this methodology. Starting the journey is a complex adventure, but as it progresses and with positive results, the task becomes easier.

Laura Benadiba
[email protected]


Catalonia: Workshops in Oral Sources
February 13-14, 2009 Tarragona, Catalunya, Spain

This event was organized by Rovira i Virgili University (URV), the Catalonian Regional Government’s Education and Art History Departament staff, in cooperation with various public and private institutions and organizations, among them the Archives of the City of Barcelona, the Ministry of Institutional Relations and Affairs, the Memorial of the Democratic Government of Catalonia and Tarragona CaixaForum.

The conference, attended by 170 people from different parts of Spain and various Latin American countries, was directed mainly at teachers, students and others interested in studying the social sciences could learn about the enormous potential of use of oral sources with pupils of school age. Through the various events we touched on a wide variety of work, with Oral History methodology, have been developed over several years, in many secondary education schools and institutions.

Among the many noteworthy activities, we would mention the lectures of professors Giovanni Levi, University Ca ‘Foscari of Venice and Laura Benadiba at the ORT Technical School in Buenos Aires, especially in the use of oral sources in the classroom we spoke respectively on “The Deceit of Orality and Writing” and “Oral History and Education: When Young People Appropriate the Past.” Besides these two speakers, Karlos Juan Romera, a member of the Seminar of Oral Sources from the Complutense University of Madrid, also spoke on “History is Told by its Sponsors or How to Make Invisible Visible” and Luis Ubeda, the director of the Department of Oral Sources Archives of the City of Barcelona who delivered a talk on the “Organization of the Archive of Oral Sources.”

In addition to these theoretical papers, various workshops in methodology were offered along with an array of presentations demonstrating good practice and experience by teachers and lecturers from the Historaula, the third volume of the collection Eines de la Memoria (Memory Tools).

It is hoped that this conference will unite a new group of teachers who use oral sources as a valuable resource in studying the recent past in colleges and secondary school classrooms.

Laura Benadiba
[email protected]
Tomàs Biosca
[email protected]

Canary Islands: Introduction to Oral History. Oral Sources in the Teaching of Social Sciences and History March 9-10, 2009, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

On March 9-10  a workshop was held, entitled Introduction to Oral History. Oral Sources in  Teaching of Social Sciences and History in the Faculty of Teacher Training, taught by Professor Laura Benadiba and Luis Úbeda. This workshop was organized by the Department of Historical Sciences and coordinated by Professor María Luisa Iglesias Hernández and Maria Luisa Monteiro Quintana, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain).
This course was aimed at initiating participants in the methodology of Oral History, analyze its potential for teaching social sciences and history, as well as evaluate different projects based on the construction and use of oral sources, and design their own working strategy.

The workshop considered the scientific relevance and educational potential of Oral History, its contribution as a research source and the need for teachers and students to become familiar with and deepen this subject in response to the challenges of teaching social science at school.

Its content focused on Oral History, analyzing its characteristics and usage. We considered interview types, the relationship between the person interviewed and the interviewer, the role of two people in conversation-narration. We also discussed how to transcribe and make use of that information.

During the intense two days of afternoon sessions, an interview with one volunteer attendant, oldest of the group, was carried out and analyzed.  Participants were also given information about how to create archives and provided with bibliography.
This workshop involves people in Oral History’s major concepts so they attain the necessary skills to conduct and analyze their own Oral History interviews and reflect on the possibilities of working with oral sources in different disciplines.

The workshop was also included interviews conducted with participants to familiarize participants with Oral History interview techniques. Nine groups were created with six people in each.

The workshop was aimed at students from different degree programs including history, social sciences and teaching as well as for graduate students. One group also attended a workshop on employment, documentation, archives and Oral History. In all, 68 people took part, reflecting the demand for these courses and workshops and the acceptance of Dr Laura Benadiba’s work.

María Luisa Iglesias Hernández
Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain)
[email protected]