Oral History in Argentina and the IOHA

Oral History in Argentina has developed remarkably over the past twenty-five years. Initially, a very limited number of people such as Hebe Clementi, Liliana Barela, Dora Schwarstein, Daniel Plotinsky and Paul Pozzi were involved in this research. Currently, there is a series of archives, some of which are still being created, while others have been consolidated. Some notable examples are Memoria abierta sobre derechos humanos [Open Memory [Archive] of Human Rights]; the ORT school that focus on the Jewish community; the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación (CCC) [Cooperative Cultural Centre] which concentrates on communist activism; and the Centro de Estudios Avanzados [Centre for Advanced Studies] at the National University of Cordoba specialises on trade unions in that city. Those of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) such as the Oral History archive at the UBA or the archive on exile, militancy and the workplace located in the Faculty of Arts and Letters are also important. The recently inaugurated Historical Archive at the National University of Tucumánalso has an entire section devoted to Oral History archives. There are also are a number of journals such as Voces Recobradas (IHCBA), Testimonios and Historia (published in digital format), Voces and Memoria, published by the Oral History Programme (OHP) at the UBA. Finally, there are a series of programs and research centres that serves as umbrella organisations for oral history practioners such as the Instituto Historico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (IHCBA) [Historical Institute of the City of Buenos Aires], the Oral History Program at the UBA or the Oral History Program in the municipality of Cordoba.

In Argentina, the development of Oral History as a field of study has taken place slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. A biannual conference is hosted by the IHCBA and the OHP and has been essential for communicating advances made on a national level. The ninth conference will be held in Buenos Aires in October 2009. The success of these conferences—more than three hundred papers presented in the eighth edition—led to the establishment of the Asociación de Historia Oral de la República Argentina (AHORA) [Oral History of Association of the Republic of Argentina]. This association brings together oral historians from across the country. Indeed, professionals and amateurs, professors and students are drawn from universities, secondary schools, municipal programs, cultural institutions, and research programs. Its principal objective is joining the the broad spectrum of oral history practitioners while promoting an exchange that takes advantage of the discipline’s tremendous diversity.

To channel this experience and energy AHORA has organised a biannual meeting and has established a website ( to facilitate communications as well as Testimony, a online journal. Drawing on the experience of supporting organizations such as the PHO, IHCBA, Historical Institute of Moron, Roca Museum and CCC), AHORA’s steering committee, chaired by Liliana Barela’s IHCBA, has assumed an ambitious agenda that promotes research, dissemination and training in secondary schools, municipalities, social organizations and unions. Another important step forward for AHORA over the past two years has been the creation of exchange and research groups with colleagues from other countries. A project on migration and borders is underway with the Federal University of Parana (Brazil). Similarly, political activism is being studied by INAH Mora and the Institute of Mexico and an initiative on ‘the world of work’ is being undertaken by the State University of Pelotas in Brazil and the Autonomous University of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Starting in 2008, AHORA has created a directory of oral researchers in Argentina. To consolidate their relationship, involvement and exchange within IOHA, AHORA proposes the following:

1. The biannual AHORA meeting fall under the auspices of IOHA, with the goal that this conference becomes regional, which would help reinforce international connections on a national level, The inaugural speech of each biennial meeting would be given by the IOHA president.

2. A position on Testimonios’ external editorial committee be reserved fro the president and vice-president of the IOHA.

3. Consider the feasibility of implementing a double AHORA/IOHA affiliation as a practical way of expressing national participation with international involvement.

4. Finally, a proposal has been made that the IOHA creates and directs international research groups.

Pablo Pozzi [email protected]
AHORA Oral History Program,
Universidad de Buenos Aires


Oral history: past, present and future. The Guadalajara Conference.

Oral History has a long history that began in the first half of the twentieth century. The United States was a pioneer in working with oral testimonies, where it was primarily used to reconstruct life histories of prominent social, artistic or political personalities.

Nevertheless, this practice took several decades to be recognized and only in the 1980s did oral history begin to be validated in academic circles. The beginning of a new phase began in 1996 with the establishment of the IOHA as a result of the International Congress of Oral History in Göteborg, Sweden. As well, the use and employment of oral history in Europe was markedly different: methodology was questioned as was its uses, with European practitioners essentially focusing on groups marginalized within academic history. They also began to discuss the location, limits and possibilities of the oral record as well as the function and purpose of archives. Moreover, historiographical questions arising from testimonies emerged out of topics seldom touched by research based on written sources. One such example is the use of oral sources from Spanish Civil War that address the experience of groups excluded from the official documentation, seen in Mercedes Vilanova’s work on Spanish anarchists.

Since the Göteborg event in 1996, the IOHA conference has taken place biannually. The choice of host cities has provided a rewarding journey that started a very diverse journey: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1998), Istanbul, Turkey (2000), Pietermartizburg, South Africa (2002), Rome, Italy (2004), Sydney, Australia (2006). Through this, new ways of understanding oral history were shared, progress was made in its institutionalization as were its uses and  problems encountered.

This progress does not displace the role of the United States, where oral history has become an accepted and institutionalized method of ‘doing history’.

Along these lines, much remains to be done in Latin America, which we are working hard to achieve. In recently years, and in conjunction with International Congresses of the IOHA, we have held countless numbers of national meetings, especially in countries where Oral History is more deeply rooted, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Furthermore, two regional Two meetings have been held, with the next scheduled for February 2009.

During the First International Oral History Conference in Colombia (2005) it was agreed that conferences should encourage the development of oral history, especially in countries where the field is in its initial stages. With this criteria in mind, chosen venues have been Panama (2007) and Nicaragua (2009). The two meetings that have already taken place in Latin America, were  attended by specialists from all over the world. Like the national meetings in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, the conferences held in Colombia and Panama were surprisingly well attended. It should be pointed out that at these events, participants expressed interest and enthusiasm for sharing similar experiences.

These Latin American historians are working in a geographical area where oral testimonies have assumed a particularly important position.

For these scholars, oral history techniques are not only useful in approaching a subject, but often the only manner, such as examining periods of dictatorial governments. Also, practical methods of working with oral testimony are being developed as is the historiographical production and the creation of archives. Moreover, interdisciplinary research groups and associations dedicated to social action and education alongside political and cultural issues seek (among other things) to reconstruct social and identity ties within oppressed and marginalised groups and cultural collectives that lack a voice in mainstream society dominated by the written word.

We believe that the fact that the last International Conference was organized in Mexico was an acknowledgment to the pioneering role it has had in this continent in the construction of oral archives. At the same time, Latin American researchers have been able to present their work and meet with others whose studies show that exclusion, marginalization and discrimination are central problems, even when manifested in different ways. This otherness is almost always at the centre of debates as a result of cultural omission or social stigma.

Liliana Barela [email protected]



FIFTEENTH IOHA International Conference, Guadalajara, September 2008

The job of organizing the International Association of Oral History Congress in Guadalajara was was not easy. I say this as someone who only marginally participated in its organization. Indeed, thanks to my colleagues who took on the full burden of responsibility and who made an extraordinary effort for a positive outcome.

There were, without a doubt, organizational problems that were not resolved satisfactorily. Nevertheless, in the end, the conference left a favourable balance of emotions, impressions, dislikes, surprises and interesting intellectual exchanges. It was also a time to reunite with friends (especially in my case as I was not able to attend the Sydney 2006 conference). These reunions are always enjoyable despite lacking the necessary time to sit and chat with everyone. Truly, there is never enough time for everything.

Of course, a conference is for the exchange of ideas. In this sense, I was pleased as there were a large number of conversations and debates. As always, discussions over coffee or during the fifteen minute break between talks (which sometimes became half an hour) were often more beneficial than the question and answer period during the roundtable sessions. This always occurs and is part of the dynamic of conferences. Nevertheless, while speaking with colleagues over the past several days, we have concurred with the sensation that that debate was lacking during panel sessions. As well, the closing keynote address could have been complimented with a summary of general themes, about the number of papers given, origins of participants as well as overview of regional issues concerning oral historians, without going into great detail of the proceedings of each panel.

It was also wonderful surprise for me to see a large showing of Latin American colleagues. Of course, there has always been a large contingent from this region—with the Brazilians often being the largest group—but in this occasion, there were people from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and, of course, Mexico. As a result, the large part of the papers that I attended were presented by Latin Americans. Research from this region spreads over a wide range of themes. My impression is that topics on education, migration and politics were predominant. Perhaps tainted by my own research, I thought the papers on politics during the second half of the twentieth century were the most interesting, particularly those concerning resistance to state terrorism, left-wing opposition movements and popular movements that appeared after the disappearance of dictatorships. I was certainly left with the impression that oral history occasionally stirs the same passions as political activism. It is, undoubtedly, a vibrant and fertile atmosphere.

Another strong impression that I was left with is related to the International Association. In reality there are many, such as language problems and areas made available for cultural exchange. Among these issues there was one that, in particular, that interests me: the strange absence of a number of important oral historians who might be considered the founders of these international meetings. Among those that did attend, most did not assume the central place that they had held in previous conferences. I suppose that generational changes are becoming more and more apparent as seen in the final keynote address that payed homage to Alicia Olivera, a pioneer in the Oral History in Mexico. It is also true that this group of historians formed a theoretical body as well as an agenda of debate that functioned as a focus for debate in these conferences. In Sydney, as a commemoration of IOHA’s tenth anniversary, several of these historians took stock of both the Association and Oral History, while some commented on future perspectives. This debate was not continued over the course of conference and it is possible that these concerns have fallen by the wayside. In light of this, a pending task is to create new conceptual lines which will facilitate the interchange and convergence of individual considerations. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the Association’s tolerance  as a community is slowly eroding when  sharing concerns and posing questions that have served to stimulate intellectual discussion. The danger lies in that the IOHA will be converted in just another professional organization: oral historians will meet out of inertia, the touristic incentive will be  stronger than academic purpose and intellectual ties will take a back seat to slick and business-like presentations.

Unquestionably, IOHA’s twelve years is an important achievement, with each conference implying a tremendous effort. This willing optimism, which joins many people from many countries, can only result in something good. And Guadalajara generally proved this to be true.

Gerardo Necoechea Gracia [email protected]



Past Conferences and Oral History in Panama

From my perspective, the history of IOHA is a panorama begins with my participation in regional meetings, starting with Bogota in 2005 and followed by the 2007 Panama conference which we organized and hosted. I also attended the Fifteenth Oral History Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

My observations are focused on three points: i) promotion of Oral History; ii) dissemination of research; and iii) creating spaces where discussion, interaction and networking between professionals is encouraged.

In terms of the promotion of oral history through the Regional Meetings, I should note that the IOHA has no direct involvement. For example, the conference held in Colombia in 2005 was an initiative promoted primarily by the Colectivo de Historia Oral [Oral History Collective]. The only links I noticed were that the Oral History Collective is a part of IOHA (2005:8) and that several participants were professional members of the IOHA.

Given the effectiveness of the conference held in Panama and our relative inexperience in events related to oral history, we solicited the advice to Dr. Antonio Montenegro, an IOHA member, who recommend IOHA moderators for roundtable with an international scope. In this these sessions, a number of IOHA historians attended.

Nonetheless, in the regional meetings that I have attended the IOHA has had no direct involvement in the promotion of oral history. This omission, from y point of view, must be corrected. If the organization seeks is to promote oral history and created new arenas to spread its benefits, the IOHA should support regional events. This could be achieved through consultations, specialist, economic support, bibliographical resources, development of workshops and, of course, promoting the regional meetings.

Similarly, it is important that the IOHA maintain internet sites with relevant information. This is agile and rapid way of accessing different topics about oral history and which complements the aim of furthering awareness and use. However, we must seek ways of publicizing these sites so they will are visited by more people interested the topic. Perhaps the Outreach Committee, along with IOHA members, could make a commitment to promote IOHA web resources among colleagues and students.

In regards to the Fifteenth International Oral History Conference, “Oral History -A Dialogue with our Times” held in September 2008 in Guadalajara, it is important to recognise that the event was crucial for the objectives of oral history. Indeed, the conference achieved its goal of informing of the benefits and uses of oral history. The was achieved only through thematic panels and conferences, but also through lectures that facilitated the exchange of experiences and opinions with colleagues and students and encouraged, in turn, professional networks and friendships. I would like to note, however, that blocks are formed according to regions and continents, creating invisible–but nonetheless real–walls. This situation was, perhaps, a issue of language, but the question remains: how can this tension be mitigated?

Finally, given that elections  to choose a new council are held every two years (coinciding with the International Conference), we ask that prior to the elections, members from each continent send a list of potential candidates with a short professional biography and a short summary of their commitment to oral history. This information could then be forwarded to members by email or be included in the bulletin or blog. In this manner (and having reviewed the candidates’ curricula vitae) , we will be better informed when voting.

If oral history seeks to breakdown hierarchical frameworks and absolute truths while encouraging the socialization of history, the field’s representative organizations should strive for similar characteristics.

Marcela Camargo Ríos [email protected]
Universidad de Panamá.



5th National Annual Conference in East London

The Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA) held its 5th National Annual Conference in East London from 7 to 10 October 2008 under the theme: “Hidden Voices, Untold Stories and Veiled Memories”; Forty-one papers were presented, not only academics but by teachers and community activists.  A new committee of six people, including Radikobo Ntsimane who is also a member o the IOHA Council, was elected during the conference.

On 23-24 October 2008 the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal facilitated a two-day strategic planning session to help the management of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Archives to successfully run oral history projects in various parts of the province.

On 28 October Professor Trevor Getz from San Francisco State University, California, led an Oral History Workshop at the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg for about 30 museum staff, school educators and interested high school learners.

The Sinomlando Centre has been working for several years in partnership with two local government initiatives in training and managing their oral history projects, one in Edendale, Pietermaritzburg, and the other one in Mpophomeni, Howick. Both projects aim at developing a community museum.



Oral History Association’s 2008 Annual Meeting

In October, the Oral History Association held its 2008 annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Just under 300 presenters and close to 470 attendees participated in four and a half days of workshops, panels, working groups, and plenaries.  Among them were international presenters from Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom.  Four of the international presenters received travel awards from the OHA that totaled $3,000.

The meeting began on Wednesday, with half-day and full-day workshops on subjects ranging from an introduction to oral history project design and interviewing techniques to digital audio and video field recording equipment, digital preservation, the use of oral history for pre-collegiate teachers, and a hands-on workshop on the creation of digital multimedia productions.  New to the meeting this year were book discussion groups in which participants were able to share time with three authors, and working groups on the teaching of oral history and on the use of new technologies to present oral histories to public audiences.

In the spirit of a meeting devoted to an exploration of new media, three of the plenaries were videotaped for use, among other places, on the Oral History Association’s new website, which launched the week before the national meeting.  These include live oral history interviews with Civil Rights movement organizer and former Pittsburgh City councilman Sala Udin, and with human rights activist Stetson Kennedy, a veteran of the New Deal Federal Writers Project, now in his nineties. One of the highlights of the meeting was the Digital and Community Plenary Showcase, a laptop poster session with presentations on new software, digital access and search capabilities, Web-based exhibits and archives, and more. These ranged from an oral history project conducted by high school students in rural Virginia to large, institutionally based websites, including the Edmund S. Muskie and Special Collection’s Library’s “Muskie Oral History Project,” winner of the 2008 Elizabeth B. Mason Major Project Award.  Attendees at the meeting also received abstracts of papers and presentations, which will soon be available on the OHA website.

Next year the OHA will hold its annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, from October 14-18, 2009.  The call for papers can be found on the OHA website, The OHA is eager to increase the number of international presenters, who are encouraged to submit proposals for individual presentations and panels.

Charles Hardy III

President, Oral History Association. 
West Chester University