Oral History Meetings
NOHANZ Introduces Regional Meetings
The New Zealand Oral History Association, NOHANZ, has introduced regional meetings, kicking off with a very successful one in Wellington in February. In New Zealand, oral history is often a lonely calling, so these meetings are designed to provide peer support and review for oral historians who work by themselves. NOHANZ is encouraging groups of oral historians in other areas in the country to hold similar meetings.
In other news, Loreen Brehaut recorded a project with former whalers who had worked in the north of the South Island. She discovered that ending a project does not end an interviewer’s association with interviewees: “Last year’s project in which I interviewed whalers’ family members, with a particular emphasis on the small school in Tory Channel which served these families, resulted in the usual collection of oral histories archived for posterity. However, there were two extra offshoots: 1) I became fascinated with this remote school which ran for only 12 years, and 2) the ex-pupils became motivated to hold their first (and probably only) school reunion. I could have done without the hassles of taking minutes at their numerous meetings, collecting moneys for their registration, souvenirs and reunion costs, and accepting criticism of the school and bay history booklet I put together, but all in all it was an interesting follow-up to the oral history project. So often we complete our projects and archive the material then move on to something new. Living in a small community involves becoming part of your interviewees’ lives forever, apparently.”
ORAL HISTORY IN THE CLASSROOM : A STRATEGIC SEMINAR DEDICATED TO THE TEACHING OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES. Panama, February 18-22, 2008
The seminar was part of a series of training workshops run by the Faculty of Humanities , organized by professors Marcela Camargo and Josefina Zuritag on behalf of the university , and coordinated and recorded by Professor Laura Benadiba of Argentina . The seminar consisted of five workshops of eight hours each, and was held in La Chorrera, Panama. Both primary and secondary teachers from the region participated.
Different teaching strategies were employed during the seminar so that the participants could experiment with various “possible solutions” to the questions raised at the beginning of the workshop regarding the teaching of social sciences. On the second day, teachers were introduced to oral history interviewing techniques and to strategies for resolving issues that arise during interviews. Among the organized activities, special mention should be made of the presentation of filmed interviews. Here, the participants’ various points of view provided a fundamental contribution to the analysis of oral sources.
To allow the teachers to experience the techniques of constructing oral sources, interviews were conducted through a simulated process directed by the coordinator. These experiences made it evident that more research on recent Panamanian history, such as the invasion, and the Torrijos-Carter treaties, is necessary.
Another activity involved the production of a personal biography. This exercise aimed to encourage reflection on the characteristics that a story acquires from the perspective of the listener. This activity proved very enriching as every participant wanted to hear the story of their colleagues, which created a climate of solidarity on the first day. The bond grew stronger the next day when the activity was repeated.
What did the participants take away from the intense days of work?
On the last day , they were asked to provide an evaluation of their experience, taking into consideration their initial expectations. These are the results, based on teacher’s responses:
▪ The materials used during the five days of study allowed us to incorporate new strategies for historical research in and outside the classroom. We realized that it is a very important tool for university level research.
▪ Innovative resources were used (filmed interviews, documentaries, simulated interviews)
▪ The “space” opened for discussion and debate was very stimulating. This forum fostered awareness about the reality and experiences of the other participants, as well as the activities they carry out in their own schools.
▪ Becoming acquainted with oral history methodology demonstrated its utility for future teaching in the social sciences and history.
▪ For those of us with many years of interviewing experience, this experience has served to strengthen and deepen understanding of the specifics of oral history methodology, especially in the transcription of interviews.
▪ With this methodology, we believe that our students will become more involved their education and learning processes. Similarly, they will have a more positive attitude towards the social sciences.
▪ We are considering the idea of expanding the use of this technique in each of our schools. For this reason, we will need a second training opportunity that covers the specifics of such a task.
▪ We thank the University of Panama, and the Ministry of Education, who made this seminar possible.
In general terms, participants were introduced to the different methodological strategies used in the social sciences and history classroom , with oral history as a particular focus of their work. They analyzed some of the potential benefits it holds for teaching. They were also evaluated different projects based on oral sources, and considered designing their own projects.
An agreeable atmosphere developed over the course of the event, allowing the participants to create a communication network and to produce a collective letter to the University and the Ministry requesting a second follow-up seminar to facilitate the establishment of concrete projects for each of the schools where they work.
The seminar therefore helped raise awareness about the meaning of oral history in Panama and around the world: a dynamic and relevant scientific field for the production of knowledge in the social sciences.
In realizing satisfactory results through the application of oral history techniques , we see more and more education practitioners, at all levels, working with oral sources within the classroom.
But the most important point to consider is that this type of event allows those who participated, whether they have worked or not with oral sources before, to exchange experiences and formulate concerns. Such seminars inspire people to begin, or continue using oral history in their own work.
The two -day seminar unfolded successfully, with the objectives satisfied in a relaxed setting. This was made possible thanks to the excellent positive attitude of all participants regarding the activities. Audience participation was spontaneous, reacting positively towards different methodologies and practices proposed.
The participants made their commitment to the proposed activities clear from the beginning. Their readiness to listen to each other was especially evident.
Thanks for letting me benefit from this marvelous experience! Thanks for having made it possible for me to benefit from this marvelous experience!
Profesora Laura Benadiba
THE GUERNICA CHILDREN: “THE EXPERIENCE OF EXILE.” Symposium held on 20 October 2007, University of Southampton
During the Spanish Civil War the bombing of Guernica and other Basque towns by the Condor Legion on the orders of General Franco caused international public outrage. A reluctant British government was thus persuaded to accept nearly 4,000 refugee children from the Basque Country, though it insisted that it would not contribute financially towards their upkeep. The arrival of the children was the biggest ever single influx of refugees to enter Britain.
There were 3,826 niños (children) on board the steamship Habana when it docked in Southampton from Bilbao on 23rd May 1937. Accompanying them were 95 teachers, 15 priests and 120 nurses and señoritas (volunteer helpers). The newly formed Basque Children’s Committee was entrusted with the care of the children. On arrival at Southampton, the children were taken to a camp at North Stoneham. From there they were dispersed around the UK to various “colonies” staffed and financed wholly by individual volunteers, church groups and trade unions.
After the fall of Bilbao and Franco’s capture of the rest of northern Spain in the summer of 1937 the process of reuniting the niños with their parents began. Because of the repression in Francoist Spain, the Basque Children’s Committee had to vet carefully all requests for the children to be returned. By the late 1940s most of the children had been reunited with their families, either in Spain or in exile. However, over 250 niños settled permanently in the UK, including orphans as well as those over 14 years of age who decided to stay. Many of the adults that had accompanied them also stayed.
As part of the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of these refugees in Britain, the Spanish Section of Modern Languages of the University of Southampton and the Southampton City Council Oral History Unit organised a one day symposium entitled “The Experience of Exile,” which gathered a group of survivingniños still living in Britain, members of the second generation, local researchers, professionals of the media and members of local refugee groups and organizations.
The symposium consisted of three panels. The first included a series of presentations by some of the niños permanently settled in the UK and a niña who had been evacuated to the Soviet Union. Aided by photographs, posters, paintings and poetry, the niños shared their trajectories of evacuation and exile and evaluated their lives in the countries that had given them refuge.
The second panel was formed by members of the second generation–sons and daughters of the niños–who reflected on the ways in which the experiences of their parents had been transmitted to them and the ways in which their parents’ exile had contributed to shaping their own lives. The presenters of this panel explained that this was the first opportunity that they had to consider these important issues.
The last panel brought together a group of TV and film professionals engaged in the dissemination of the niños’ stories, representatives of voluntary groups currently working with refugees and two young asylum seekers from Zimbabwe and Afghanistan whose claims for asylum continue to be rejected by the British immigration authorities despite the political situation in faced by their countries of origin.
On listening to the life stories of the Spanish refugee children of yesterday, the young refugees of today were able to establish a connection between the present and the past. But also, and maybe for the first time too, they began to contemplate the possibility of a future, as one of them concluded at the end of the event: “Will I, one day, maybe in many years to come, be sitting at a panel like this telling my children and other people why and how I had to leave Zimbabwe and seek asylum in Britain?”
The success of this event, judging by the interest it generated and the high level of participation, demonstrates how oral history can be used to facilitate a dialogue between the present and the past, as well as fostering an understanding across generations. At the same time, oral history enables us to establish a comparative framework to study similar social and political processes that occur at different times, allowing us to identify continuities and ruptures. Unfortunately, as was revealed by the life stories shared during the symposium, displacement and exile continue to be a constant pattern in our history. What is worse is the difficulty that children and young people continue to experience great difficulties when seeking international protection, a right that is theoretically enshrined in international law but which governments increasingly interpret in restrictive terms. Oral history has not only got the possibility but also the duty to continue to denounce this injustice.
Alicia Pozo-Gutiérrez and Padmini Broomfield
ORAL HISTORY AND PERFORMANCE CONFERENCE, OHMAR, March 13-15, 2008, New York City
OHMAR, the Mid-Atlantic regional oral history association in the United States, presented their annual spring conference at Columbia University on March 13-15, 2008.
Titled “Oral History and Performance,” the conference focused on intersections between oral history and theories, methods and practices of performance.
The conference opened with a workshop in beginning oral history methods taught by Columbia Oral History Research Office Director Mary Marshall Clark. An afternoon workshop on oral history and performance was taught by Susan Kraft from New York Public Library’s Performing Arts collection oral history program and Jeff Friedman, founder of Legacy Oral History program at San Francisco’s Museum of Performance and Design. It covered the primary thematic strands of the conference presentations, focusing on oral history for performers; oral history asperformance, and oral history in performance.
Ryan Claycomb, a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at West Virginia University, provided a theoretical platform for discussion. Sessions included a multimedia performance on New Orleans residents’ experience of Hurricane Katrina by Danielle Sear Vignes from Louisiana State University. Friday’s other highlights included Chicago-based theatre artist Jenny Montgomery’s play based on interviews with genocide survivors; a panel on oral history and performance from Vienna-based artists Carolyn Dertnig, Stephanie Siebold, and Juma Hauser; a staged performance of The Hillsboro Story by Portland, Oregon-based dance artist Susan Banyas and musician David Ornette Cherry; independent solo performance artist Slash Coleman’s The Neon Man and Me, based on the death of his best friend; and University of Vermont theater faculty Gregory Ramos’ series of solo vignettes based on interviews he recorded with gay and transgender residents on the border between the United States and Mexico.
Saturday’s presentations included papers by Canadian Native American scholar/artist Dolleen Manning on her radical performance art intervention based on the Ojibwe orality; and Indiana University doctoral student Matthew Van Hoose’s paper on Afro-Uruguayan drumming as a form of oral/aural history resistance to urban gentrification in Montevideo, Uruguay. Heike Roms, a German performance historian, talked on her history of performance art in Wales. Megan Carney, from Blacksburg Virginia, described oral history-based theater based on recordings with those at Virginia Tech University who feel unsafe on campus, following a tragic shooting incident. Saturday’s events ended with a live oral history recording with a drag performer by performance historian Joe E. Jeffreys and a theoretical paper based on oral histories with female b-girl dancers in New York City by Columbia graduate student Miri Park. The presentations described above represent only a small selection of the breadth and depth of topics addressed; please refer to the OHMAR web site (www.ohmar.org) for a complete listing.
On Saturday, OHMAR also presented its annual Forrest C. Pogue Award to Jeff Friedman, in honor of his work as a scholar and artist working with theory, method and practice of oral history-based performance. The conference helped to improve understanding of the intersection between oral history and performance. While flexibility is required to accommodate additional needs for performance-based presenters, the rewards are great.
Jeff Friedman, Department of Dance, Rutgers University