Oral History Meetings
The X Days of History and Oral Sources: New threats, new challenges, organised by the Seminar of Oral Sources “M. Carmen García-Nieto” of UCM, took place on the 26th and 27th of October 2012 in the National Historical Archives, Madrid. The commitment to conduct a biennial convocation was thus fulfilled, as it has been for more than three decades, even if on this occasion the duration of the conference was reduced to one and a half days for reasons external to the organisers’ interests.
The need to move forward in new ways and exit an impasse was discussed, and in some cases, the need to continue addressing the same small issues with similar characteristics, whereby often a saturation point is reached and the accumulation of testimony adds nothing new to what is already known.
We also reflected on the possibility of approaching historical disciplines that could open up new lines of research with oral sources, under the assumption that new historiographical trends could support and maintain oral methodology at the forefront of a committed social history.
The first presentation “These words: some current considerations about oral sources” was given by Professor Jordi Roca Girona (Universitat Rovira y Virgili). A historian who specialises in oral sources, in his paper he raised some of the major challenges that oral methodology will have to face in the coming decades. The second talk was given by Professor Teresa del Valle Murga (Universidad del País Vasco – Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea). A social anthropologist with a long and extensive career as a researcher, lecturer and honorary collaborator at EHU, in her paper “Time and space in the memory of the city” she had used oral sources to understand the processes of construction, as well as the material and symbolic transformation of the city.
Lecturers Francisco Arriero Ranz (Universidad de Alcalá de Henares) and Pilar Díaz Sánchez (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), reflected on the current oral methodology and suggested new lines of research in the field of cultural studies.
Alongside these lectures, there were twelve presentations relating to the three axes of the Days (memory spaces, cultural elements and female genealogies). There was also the presentation of a book Glimpses: Theory and practical methodology of oral sources, by Professor Miren Llona González (Universidad de País Vasco-Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea).
The attendance at maximum capacity was around fifty people, and the interest shown towards the themes presented was reflected in the discussions and meetings that have happened over the two days. A DVD of the minutes of this event will soon be made available.
By Pilar Díaz
Translation Aarthi Ajit. ([email protected])
Celebrating the liberation stories of South Africa
The ninth conference of the Oral History Association of South Africa 2012
The Black Mountain Hotel just outside Thaba Nchu overlooks sturdy black mountains and a beautiful lake. It was here, at this peaceful setting, that the ninth annual conference of the Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA) was held from the 8th to the 11th of October 2012. However, the papers given at this conference did not testify to peacefulness and compliance. No, they told the stories of struggle, of the painful paths towards the liberation of South Africa.
Thaba Nchu means “black mountain” in the local language, and the town is situated in the Free State Province, 70 kilometres east of the provincial capital, Bloemfontein, known in the local language as Mangaung. The Oral History Association of South Africa, financially supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, rotates its conferences from province to province, and has decided to hold their conference in the Free State Province this year because of an event of historical significance that took place in this province a century ago. Here, in Bloemfontein, the African National Congress, the party that came into power after the first democratic elections in South Africa, was founded on 8 January 1912. Thaba Nchu, being a town older than Bloemfontein, has a liberation history of its own and was chosen because of its proximity to Bloemfontein.
The theme of the conference was “Oral History, communities and the Liberation Struggle: Reflective Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” The opening was done by a variety of high provincial office bearers, and the keynote address was delivered by the Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Joe Phaahla. Each day was opened by two guest speakers, one from an academic background and one “organic intellectual”. An “organic intellectual” is a person who is regarded by his or her community as an indigenously wise person, such as a sangoma, a traditional healer or a traditional leader.
A total of 40 papers were given by members or affiliates of OHASA. The contributions focused on narrativising the struggle, the methodological challenges in doing so, and the ways in which to teach this in the classroom. Learners from secondary schools also presented their oral history projects for which they received training by members of OHASA. The name of Ms Brenda Kotzé from the National Archives in Pretoria is significant in this regard.
Finally, a new Executive Committee was elected for OHASA. The EXCOM consists of nine members, each with a specific portfolio. The new chairperson of OHASA is Sekibakiba Lekgoathi, Professor of History from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Oral history is alive and well in South Africa. Government is honouring the heritage of the country by giving strong support to arts and culture, by supporting oral history research, and by moving towards oral history as a subject to be taught in primary and secondary schools. In a country with rich but untold histories, oral history is playing a key role in providing sources for recovering the past and shaping identity.
By Christina Landsman