Oral History Projects
Here Magazine Here magazine was launched in Italy in Italian in 1999 to gather testimonies, descriptions, and reflections on the private-public times we live in, in whatever forms writing allows for: notes, poetry, stories, letters, essays, and diary entries. The magazine is published in English, with future collaborators drawn from different countries in the world.
The latest issue is entitled “Away from Home,” and includes diary entries from Ukraine, Israel, the United States, Italy, Iraq, and Morocco; several short stories, essays, and a poem by Giusi Busceti, “World (Cup).” As the editor explains: “The magazine will come out both on paper and on the Internet every four months, in February, June and October, and will contain diary pages written, respectively, between September and December, January and April, May and August.
Whoever would like to collaborate will be welcome, and will write, of course, what he or she prefers; but in selecting writings, we will prefer those reflections and life experiences that are not the most ‘original’, but the most incisive, revealing and free (the least contaminated, for instance, by the media blah-blah). Why a diary? Because all together on these pages we want to be ‘witness’ to the times we are living in: to read and comment on them together, periodically offering readers the possibility of reliving a recent past, which they themselves have experienced, through a ‘chorus’ of diverse voices. Moreover, a diary is an exercise of attention. And it can also be a container for scattered thoughts, observations, and questions: those which never become ‘fully expressed’, and which, especially in our times when it is a matter of re-considering everything, may offer some precious help.”
Here is published both in printed form and on the Internet (www.quihere.eu). Anyone who would like to receive a paper copy or a three-issue subscription can place a credit card order via fax or phone (0039-02-57406574), providing us with the card number and expiration date. A single issue costs 10 Euros (13 $US), and a complementary sample copy of one of the most recent issues can also be requested if you are interested in subscribing. A three-issue subscription costs 30 Euros (38 $US) in Europe and the Mediterranean area, or 35 Euros (45 $US) in the rest of the world; however, reduced-price subscriptions are available.
Massimo Parizzi [email protected]
Revisiting a Pioneer: The Libyan Jihad Oral History Centre
A visit to the Jihad Centre for Historical Studies in Tripoli turned out to be a remarkable experience in the daily workings of one of the first historical institutions that made oral history its principal research activity. Modern oral history, as a method, research discipline, and alternative historical approach, found a fecund terrain in Libya, where oral tradition and the verbal arts pervaded popular culture as a mode of social negotiation and intra-generational transmission of knowledge. With its foundation in 1978, the Oral History Centre in Tripoli, became one of the earliest research institutions in the world to recognize the value of oral history in the construction of a “people’s history” (taken in a populist sense) and use it as a unique means to reclaim indigenous memories of a past anti-colonial resistance which had been either neglected or suppressed by official history. Straight away, this research centre became a point of gravitation for individual Libyan historians but also for other scholars from neighboring countries. It also became a catalyst for the spread and popularization of oral history practice in North Africa, by providing assistance in the teaching of oral history and in the launching of similar projects.
The foundation of this Jihad (here meaning resistance against colonial occupation) Centre for historical studies took place during the early post-colonial phase of Libya and the neighboring countries. An initial debate was generated, in both university academic and other scholarly circles in the region, on people’s collective memory and the use of oral history to generate a new post-independence approach to history. In this new historical perspective, oral history came to be viewed as a principal means to mediate and articulate authentic people’s voices in the molding of a postcolonial national historical identity. The recording of fresh memories of the most recent colonial past, as narrated by the actual protagonists, was perceived as the most democratic alternative to the top-to-bottom, Eurocentric, colonialist interpretation of the region’s history. In Libya, in the late 1970s, the Italian colonial occupation (1911-1943) was still remembered by many of the elderly. They recollected repressive events and acts of vengeance and battles, but also experiences of their daily life under colonial rule. Several of these veterans had been front-line members of the resistance movement, while others resisted colonial rule through other means. Still alive in the late 1970s, most of these were by then nestled in their native villages dotting the vast Libyan territory. A massive effort was therefore needed to get in touch with, and systematically record. as many eyewitnesses as possible, to save their narratives from extinction, in a situation where the native people’s history of resistance against Italian occupation was still unwritten.
These ideas fell into the logic of a whole post-independence anti-colonial historiographical current, that the history of a country like Libya, like most of the “Third World,” “needed to be decolonized, to be rescued, from the tyranny of official documentation, to be allowed to study all facets of the Past,” as David Henige put it in 1982. According to this reasoning, the colonial, prejudiced, top-to-bottom vista inherent in the contemporary records neglected the life experiences, daily activities and world outlook of the subject people, and could be redressed by the “scholarly pursuit of oral historiography.” Within this theoretical frame of reference, the Jihad Oral History Centre immediately launched a major project, still in progress, to interview all of the surviving Mujahidin (resistance fighters).
Jan Vansina, historian, anthropologist and pioneer oral historian, organized the Oral History Centre, taught the first generation of Libyan oral historians modern oral history techniques and theories, and designed and supervised the first phase of the project to record people’s narratives on the Jihad against Italian occupation. Vansina’s impact on the employment of oral history in Libya and nearby countries, and the significance of this same experience on his own subsequent elaboration of oral history fieldwork methods, techniques and theoretical issues, can be found in some of his published works, although it would be very profitable to make this a research topic on its own.
This first oral history project on the Jihad encompassed all of Libya’s communities by dividing the terrain of this vast country in seventeen fieldwork districts. This geographical partition of Libya for research purposes has structured all subsequent oral history ventures undertaken by the Centre, including a recently launched project on the social and economic history of Libyan communities. This is meant to be another long-term venture, aiming to dig deep in the different communities’ past modes of living through a cumulative method of research in which oral history plays a pivotal part.
The “lessons learnt” from this project are now employed to elaborate fieldwork methods/techniques used in new ventures. A series of semi-structured questions in printed form, with space for the inclusion of more ancillary information and annotations, stills form the spinal cord of all oral history work undertaken. As context is imperative in such extensive projects, a general holistic approach has been developed wherein veterans are interviewed in their intimate spaces, household and community terrains, surrounded by their immediate cultural references.
Oral historians and their fieldwork teams–known as “research workers”–have been photographing or filming the elderly interviewees in their surroundings, and in locations mentioned in their narratives, annotating and copying old photographs and written records, and gathering artefacts. The whole “package of evidence” is deposited at the Tripoli Jihad Centre and, from time to time, exhibited for the public. Younger oral historians, trained by the first group of Vansina’s students, spread in teams, interviewing veterans in the urban areas in the nearby districts, or in organized fieldwork expeditions to the remote villages. They employ face-to-face negotiations, sustained by an established network of contacts, in order to get in touch with specific individuals or households. This enables them to tap in, and record, localized nexus of shared memories. To date, this oral history project has produced a collection of 7,451 recorded tapes, all of which have been transcribed (with 4,468 of them fully indexed/classified). Although most of the tapes have been recorded on tape, digitalization has started. This has already facilitated multiple level research and the publication of full text narratives in Arabic in a series entitled the Jihad Narrations Encyclopaedia, which has reached its forty second volume.
Approaching the thirtieth anniversary of its foundation in 2008, with more work in preparation, the oral history core of the Jihad Centre for historical Studies in Tripoli has come a long way, from its origins as a pioneer in the practice of oral history, to serve as a potential site for initiating a critical debate on the multiple uses of oral history in a post-colonial setting.
John Chircop [email protected]
Oral History Centre, University of Malta
Voices from the Mountain: Histories and Memories of a Disappearing Form of Rural Life
With the acceptance of Spain in the Common European Market in the 1980s, a rapid phase of changes in the agricultural markets legislation led to a dramatic transformation of rural villages, particularly in the region of Asturias. The physical layout of mountainous Asturias and a significant and continued presence of human settlements throughout the centuries created a pastoral culture based on extensive cattle herding. The longstanding presence of this practice shaped the emergence of a mountainous space rich in man-made grasslands and ground beds, locally known as majadas and brañas, as well as great amount of human and cattle movement. Our oral history focused on the valley of Viango, lands communally owned by the village of Porrúa in the region of Llanes, eastern Asturias.
Our project aims at documenting the last few years of practice of the old agricultural system and examines the transformation of the high mountain valley´s economy. It reviews strategies followed by families of landowners to maintain their property under a new set of rules that has complicated the viable use of the grazing lands. To carry out this project, we relied on first-hand interviewing of members of families that continue to work the valley. We also depended on existing regional archives, and on the rich ethnographic record maintained at the Ethnographic Museum of Eastern Asturias. While existing records and studies give a sound understanding of the everyday life of rural villages such as Porrúa, little or nothing has been done to document the traditional relationship of the village with high mountain valleys as the case of Porrúa-Viango, with its communal ownership of the land, when the economic systems that fostered it have disappeared.
The research is being carried out in four stages. The first involves the collection of secondary source materials, and the mapping of the region. The mapping includes the identification of families and individuals with existing ties to the valley of Viango. The second stage involves the description of current activities and uses of the valley, including festivities, cattle management and new uses, such as touristic routs and services. Most of the information in this stage will be collected through informal interviewing and group discussions, mostly in the village of Porrúa. The third stage is the collection of oral histories with members of four to six selected families that will be used to illustrate aspects and strategies emerging as a result of the transformation of the local economy. The last stage will include focused interviews to document in audio an video specific aspects of the project.
Juan José Gutiérrez and Juan Antonio Valladares [email protected]
Applying New Technologies to the Memory and History of Les Corts Women’s Prison
Presodelescorts.org Les Corts Women’s Prison, 1939-1955 is a project created by the recently formed Associació per la Cultura i la Memòria de Catalunya, developed with the generous support of the Generalitat de Catalunya’s Program for Democratic Memory. The organizers’ primary aim can be summed up as the recovery and dissemination of historical memory with pedagogical and social objectives through the use of new technologies. The idea of the project began with the proposal to make publically available existing knowledge on a specific historical realities outside the walls of academe. In our case, this is the protracted women’s prison of Les Corts in Barcelona during the Francoist dictatorship.
The Women’s Prison of Les Corts, opened during the height of the Spanish Civil War, was converted during the Francoist period into mass detention center, like many other prisons throughout Spain. The few existing studies on the topic suggest that during 1939 and 1940 thousands of prisoners were crowded into a facility designed for one hundred. It served as a repressive female detention center until 1955, but its recent demolition removed all physical evidence of the prison. Not even a commemorative plaque reminds one of its existence. The story of Les Corts Women’s Prison stands as an example of what happened in many other centers of mass repression throughout Spain that have never been acknowledged as “places of memory” by the Spanish people.
Presodelescorts.org is a web-based organization that easily allows for the addition of large quantities of information in distinct formats, such as written texts, images and audio clips from interviews. The website is bilingual except for the texts of the original testimonies that have been transcribed in their original language, Catalan or Spanish. The site also contains the necessary tools to guarantee full accessibility for those with disabilities. A fundamental aspect of presodelescorts.org is its ongoing development and improvement. As a key principle, the website openly accepts news and information, testimonies and suggestions. Presodelescorts.org’s specific objectives are:
▪ Collect, process and copy to appropriate media as well as distribute over the internet the oral and written testimonies of women incarcerated in Les Corts prison.
▪ Make widely available presodelesscorts.org to a general audience, especially to those groups who have inspired the recovery of the historical memory within Catalunya and Spain. Offer presodelesscorts.org to specialised researchers, historians and sociologists in academe and universities in Catalonia and in other the Spanish regions.
▪ Develop an educational and pedagogical dimension within the project which will be offered to educators dedicated to the historical memory of our country, above all those who use oral sources in educational centres.
▪ Serve as a bridge and a meeting place for all participants including researchers, teachers and the general public, as well as other important bodies such as archives or foundations which have transcribed oral testimony collections.
The Contents of presodelesscorts.org are arranged into four principle categories.
1) The Prison: A historical synthesis accompanied by a photo gallery from the Arxiu Minicipal of Les Corts. This is complemented with urban maps and a chronology of events, covering relevant episodes that occurred within of the Francoist prison.
2) The Voices: A series of testimonies of women who were detained at Les Corts. Some are preserved as recordings while others have been transcribed into text. The project began by collecting nine testimonies, eight with women who were imprisoned, and one with the daughter of an incarcerated woman. Each testimony contains supplementary information including the biography, bibliography, and family photo albums. Some of the women have died but have left their testimony in interviews stored in archives or reproduced in texts and compiled works. Several interviews are also being re-done. All interviews are placed into historical context, with annotated references to other testimonies or studies dealing with the events in the account.
3) The Images: Compiling graphic sources has been part of the study of the Francoist prison. The source of these images are from the Biblioteca de la Dirección General de Instituciones Penitenciarias de Madrid [The Library of the Secretariat of Penetenciary Institutions of Madrid].
4) The Texts: This section brings together four types of written documentary sources. To complement to the four central areas, the site will contain two additional sections: Methodology: There will be a separate area dedicated to explaining the methodology used while compiling and commenting on written and oral sources. Material: For in-depth studies of Les Corts Prision a complete list of recommended primary sources (written, recorded and audiovisual) as well as secondary sources will be provided Contact: Web readers will be invited to leave comments and suggestions. There is also the opportunity of adding new information such as contacts for interviews or unedited sources.
Finally, presodelescorts.org’s continual development opens the door for suggestions and contributing news and additional testimonies. This ongoing exchange of information with a wider audience we expect will transform the readership into both the subject and active agent in the creation and maintenance of the web page.
Fernando Hernández [email protected]
Italian Oral History Institute
The Italian Oral History Institute (Los Angeles), a non-profit educational institution, founded and directed by Luisa Del Giudice, closed its doors in 2006. The IOHI Collections are now housed in the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive ( http://www.ethnomusic.ucla.edu/archive/) while its recently-launched Web site on Italian Los Angeles will affiliate with another organization. The IOHI has gained much respect in the arts and culture community locally, nationally, and internationally with such highly-acclaimed programs as conference/festivals: 1) Performing Ecstasies: Music, Dance and Ritual in the Mediterranean (cf. publication, ed. by LDG and Nancy Van Deusen, Ottawa: Institute for Medieval Music, 2005); 2) Italian Jews: Memory, Music, Celebration; 3) Italian Los Angeles: Celebrating Italian Life, Local History, and the Arts in Southern California; 4)Speaking Memory: Oral History, Oral Culture and Italians in America (the 38th conference of the American Italian Historical Association; publication forthcoming, ed. by LDG). Its Web site, Italian Los Angeles: A Resource Guide to Italian Los Angeles, and many exhibitions, concerts, tours, workshops and lectures, is at: www.ItalianLosAngeles.org
For more on the IOHI see: www.iohi.org
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank
An open-access, on-line database project at http://www/huricanearchive.org collects, preserves, and presents photographs, stories, oral history audio and video files and transcriptions related to Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, and Wilma. The databank includes the submissions of individuals as well as collections from various organizations. A joint venture of the University of New Orleans and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the project also streams short and feature-length documentaries produced by local filmmakers as part of the New Orleans Video Access Center collection. In addition to keyword searches, individual submissions can be found via its map browser: http://www.hurricanearchive.org/map/
Michael Mizell-Nelson – [email protected]
Universidad de Nueva Orleans