Archive Detained / Archive Unleashed: the Breath of Oral History (Spain 2010-16)

My project aims to conceptualize a set of ethical presumptions at work in both oral history practices and the cultural consumption of oral history. These presumptions operate as a problematic suture that seems to form the core of oral histories and define the discipline as such. I have located this suturing processes at three levels:

1) The unearthing of neglected voices as a morally correct action.

2) The interview setting as a site for emotional honesty.

3) The interview as a perpetuation of orality as a ‘truth-revealing’ mechanism. A theoretical investigation of these sutures will provide access to a multifarious network of generally overlooked social, affective, and acoustic processes encoded in oral histories. The investigation will address the following concerns: oral history’s supposed ‘restitution’ of historical error, erasure of the subject’s erring trajectories by prescribed affects, readiness to accept orality as truth while ignoring the randomness and failures of aural nuances.

Ultimately, I intend to test my theory with an actual oral history research and an intervention project on Spain’s 15M movement and “Puerta del Sol” occupation.


I will examine oral history’s social, affective, and acoustic processes through a detained/unleashed dynamic. This dichotomy refers to the instances of cataloguing/publicizing in the oral history archive, as well as to the multiplicity of theses and judgments at work at different stages of the archiving process. In order to render this detained/unleashed dynamic in its complex negotiations, I will study oral history practices by paying special attention to how materials are gathered, edited, and consumed through various media (books, documentaries, web-databases, and sound instalations). In the ethnographic phase of my project, the detained/unleashed framework will help conceptualize and test new interview modalities, and further develop oral history’s social and political potential through media and site-specific interventions.

Phase 1: Theorizing Oral History

1) Social re-inscription.

Oral historians carefully monitor, with increasing scrutiny, the practice of unearthing voices and narratives that had previously been censored or neglected.1

Drawing a comparison to another archival form, we might ask the following: if activating judicial archives (police reports, arrests, etc) results in detention and tightened State control, what are the ramifications of activating oral history archives? Oral histories are often accompanied by a sense of self-righteousness. This systematic conflation of ‘righted’ and ‘restored’ risks turning oral history into a mechanical engine of historical re-insertion. The interstices of social re-inscription can nevertheless be vindicated by investigating how oral histories also function as agents of fragmentation and social disruption.

Foucault’s work on statements and discourse, along with Farge’s exposé of the judicial archive offer tools to exact this investigation. Foucault’s conceptualization of discursive “phenomena of continuity, return, and repetition” (Archaeology of Knowledge 173) will be especially important for studying how oral histories are embedded in and channeled through cultural production.

2) Affect dynamics

Personal histories are often subjugated to affective meta-narratives.2

The interview setting is in many ways a space of detention, despite its intentions to augur a release or disclosure of some kind. Especially in its mediatic circulation, the potential richness of an interview evaporates as the subject’s nuanced emotions are subjugated to a pre-determined affect meta-narrative; and profitable errors often get swept up by an affect logic that consequently chains to them an enforced teleology.

But if the interview setting is envisioned as a multi-layered creative situation, the emotional errantry of subjective itineraries (doubts, fears, hopes) can be reconceptualized into a discourse that does not constrain them to pre-established affect categories. In order to think the intimate/personal/prescribed fantasy sequence, I will turn to a discussion of Laurent Berlant’s concept of sentimentality and cruel optimism, and her position on the Žižekian interpretation of disavowal and liberal fantasy (The Female Complaint, 265-70).

3) Ethics of listening.

How do orality and other acoustic phenomena contribute to the notion that personal histories are generative of truth-revealing processes?3

Even when faulty memories, omissions or lies are incorporated as segments of the personal history narrative, oral history still accepts that the voice entails and validates truth. Moreover, our content-based listening habits make it difficult to develop conscious sensitivity to silence, background noises, speech modulations, and the grain of the voice.

The suture between truth and orality may in fact operate as an aural compromise in which a person’s doubts, errors, rephrasings, and stutters, go unheard or are intentionally edited out. In oral history, this ethics of listening is crafted by pre and post-production decisions and in choices of location. Brandon Labelle’s notion of the acoustic politics of space will be problematized here for oral history and its relation to political agency and social use of orality.

Spain and the Breath of Oral History (2010-2016)

During the Spring of 2011, Madrid’s “Puerta del Sol” and the 15M movement embodied alternative expressions of organized citizenship. Assemblies championed a platform of wandering, trial, and possibility.

As I will argue, the multiplicity of trajectories that constituted this period (refusal to accept schemes of representation, direct democracy practices, etc) proposed an ideally open-ended sequence of socio-political organization. An oral history of this period would enable us to display subjective trajectories in all their subtlety and complexity, and apprehend a theory about the dynamics of a social movement that chose politicized errantry over a clear political stance.

This investigation and the aforementioned theoretical groundwork will prepare me to undertake the task of interviewing participants of the “Puerta del Sol” occupation, current political and social activists, police officials, and Government representatives. The media interventions to be created with this material (a digital repository, interactive sound-walks/sound-installations, and a documentary) inquire into the possibility of recreating and re-occupying the public spaces out of which the 15M movement emerged.4

I also plan to create a parallel sound-walk in Berlin, at a still to-be-determined location. This last intervention is set to unleash a segment of Spain’s past and present in a foreign space in order to question the country’s cultural identity as it has been imagined and consumed outside of Spain.5

Preliminary Work

My recent book, Espacio. Poema en prosa de Juan Ramón Jiménez, systematizes the operations of the prose poem and its ability to sustain subjective and historical tensions without foreclosing them This literary example, as I will argue, can illuminate the inner mechanics of the personal history model. Also, my work on political poetry (“El balbuceo republicano de César Vallejo”), concentrates on the subjective/collective prescribed meta-narratives that I will study for oral history.

My work with voice praxis and theory provides me with the tools to extensively review the creative possibilities of sound in oral history. Two forthcoming texts (“Voz/Escucha/Poema: escuela de la decisión”, “De-voiced / De-occupied: hushing Spain’s public spaces”) advance some of the findings I want to investigate in my project. As for my performative work, my ongoing voice series “The Insider” raises social, political, and identitarian questions through a sonic exploration of an immigration officer’s fictional narrative. The series’ creative work is accompanied by field-work that focuses on interviewing immigrants and retired/active immigration officers.

“Errans” core project and the ICI fellowship

In my project, oral history is thought in the context of error and errantry through three overarching questions: 1) How can the social re-inscription of neglected voices move beyond the error/restitution paradigm? 2) To what extent can we extract and map the erring (wandering/mistakes) of subjective trajectories from a strongly framed affect meta-narrative? 3.

How can the creative potential of randomness and failure in sound allow for a listening that problematizes the logic of orality-as-truth ? Moreover, my research/intervention on Spain aims to configure oral history as a sensitizing device to articulate the grey (or stirring) zone of errantry when it is threatened by apathy, dissipation, and doubt.

The ICI’s unique understanding of academic culture will provide the ideal space and dynamic for developing my project. I foresee that collaboration with the other fellows and the ICI team will bring new perspectives to the theoretical grounding of my work. In this sense, at a more advanced stage of my research, I will propose a seminar series focused on the ethics of oral history and its function as a resource for other scholarly and artistic disciplines. In conclusion, I believe that my project and my idiosyncratic mix of academic and artistic pursuits will prove a valuable asset to the ICI community.

Text: Ernesto Estrella.

It happened in the kitchen of my house

It happened in the kitchen

Every utopia contains dystopian spaces, places that must be destroyed and eliminated for they represent values totally contrary to the ideals on which the new society must be built. In the particular case of the emancipatory project that the Cuban Revolution conceived for women, the kitchen –identified as the symbol of their exploitation and oppression in capitalist societies–became one of these spaces whose walls had to be demolished and, with them, the figure of the housewife. To that end, the Marxist theorists Larguía and Dumoulin proposed in 1971 from the pages of the Cuban cultural journal Casa de las Américas that housewives “must commit suicide as a class, through the struggle and through the merging with the proletariat” because, like other small-scale producers, they were a marginal and secondary class that lacked “the authority to lead a country” and “oppose the imperialism”. Leave the kitchen to get into the factory or the office, take the apron off to put the overalls on, drop the ladle to take the cane knife, or replace the mop with the rifle thus became some of the watchwords of this movement through which the housewife would be substituted by a model of female identity more in line with the new socialist state: the working and militant woman.

However, and despite the significant gains achieved during this process, the incitement to leave the domestic space was not always accompanied by a real attempt to challenge the cultural and ideological foundations underpinning women’s domesticity, but quite the opposite:

far from being questioned, the ideals, virtues, expectations and values associated with traditional female roles were reinforced and transferred from the old to the new model. So, dressed in their new green olives fatigues, Cuban women were still expected to display the same spirit of sacrifice, total commitment and absolute dedication to the party, the motherland and the revolutionary cause that they had been previously required within the household as devote mothers, and faithful and obedient wives. And then, when they were the first who had to give up their jobs due to the crisis of the 1990s that came with the collapse of the socialist block, they were also asked to resign themselves and go back to “the stove front”, to that kitchen where sometimes there were no children left waiting for them, either because they had abandoned the country tired of these same causes or because they had died fighting for them in some internationalist mission. According to the anthropologist Isabel Holgado, during the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace” the State delegated its social functions to women, while at the same time certain social services were carried out again at home. So, those housewives who have been forced to self-immolation had to rise from their ashes and make a great effort to solve the problems of daily life. In view of their importance to cushion the impact of the crisis and so avoid the collapse of the system, these “domestic strategists” were revalued and even recognized as national heroines by the same government which had despised them before for being economically unproductive and politically inactive.

Considering the above, It happened in the kitchen of my house is conceived as an interdisciplinary and multimedia project which, combining the theoretical and methodological assumptions of oral history with the main concepts of art intervention, aims to explore this difficult (and sometimes traumatic) process of “returning home” as it was lived by some Cuban woman from diverse parts of the island, and draw attention to the kitchen as a political forum for grievance, and thus, for protest; that is, as a rhetorical space from and about which these women communicate their dissatisfaction, frustration, discontent, resentment and disagreement to the ruling power. The first stage of the fieldwork was carried out between 2004 and 2008 in different places of Pinar del Río, Havana and Camagüey provinces, where we interviewed several women of different ages and life paths, with some of whom we lived and accompanied in their quotidian chores. For this, we counted with the financial support granted by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation-Spanish Embassy in Havana in 2004, from which our project also received the Visual Art Prize in 2006.

The material gathered during this fieldwork includes the audio and visual recording of the interviews, personal documents of the interviewees and photographic documentation of their kitchens; all of which are now accessible on the website ( we created for that purpose earlier this year. This website is designed as chest of drawers, where people can freely consult through the different drawers the audio files of the interviews, a series of short documentary films based on the audiovisual material collected, the fieldwork notes, and a set of postcards. Created as artistic objects using the abovementioned pictures of the kitchens, some fragments of the interview transcriptions and personal documents, these postcards are part of an art book made from silkscreen printing, due to be published in 2016. Conceived as a work in progress and as a space for dialogue, the on-line project It happens in the kitchen of my house also includes a section for the articles that are currently being prepared both by the authors of the project and by others outside it, but interested in analyzing the previously stated issues associated with the figure of the housewife within revolutionary Cuba.

Carmen Doncel
Henry Eric Hernández


Testimonial Archive Project-Nigeria.

The Testimonial Archive Project came about from watching with great fear and deep concern the deterioration of law and order and the mass killings currently ongoing in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa over the past few years. Just as worrying as the violence is Nigerians’ collective helplessness. The media has focused mostly on the political ramifications, rather than the human impact, of the violence in the northeast. This has affected Nigerians’ reactions by fostering fatigue and not the expected sympathy and anger. We believe the current state of affairs to be insidious, and recognize the need for increased awareness of the human impact of the violence, as well as for a platform through which Nigerians can speak directly to each other and use as a springboard for further, more people-focused activism.

The Testimonial Archive Project (Hereafter referred to as “TAP” or “Archive”) seeks to create an online archive of the voices of ordinary Nigerian citizens living in the northeast that details the human cost of the violence in the north-eastern Nigerian states of Yobe, Adamawa, and Borno. TAP will exist online as a crowd-sourced, people-driven project that will rely on the input of civil society organizations, both based in the north-east of the country and elsewhere, for audio footage and research information.

TAP has been putting up survivors’ testimonies since its launch on February 26th, taking advantage of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to share stories of survival and make calls to action. Especially now with heightened awareness on the dire situation of people living in these affected northeastern Nigerian states following the horrific abduction of over 200 young girls from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, and the renewed international commitments to protect women in areas of conflict made during the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, we hope to contribute to the conversation by providing personal stories from the difficult-to-reach areas that can provide insight into what can be done to improve their situation and serve as a springboard for further activism.

Text. Saratu. Team Lead of TAP.

UAE Oral History

Its Origins-

UAE Federal Law (7) for 2008 On National Center for Documentation and Research (Center) [Renamed National Archives in 2014] Chapter One Article (1) states “Oral Archive: Information orally gathered by the Center and is recorded in writing and audio form. It supplements already existing knowledge and fills gaps therein, and/or provides information that has never previously been recorded and after being officially documented is added to the Center’s research resource bank.”

Article (4) item (2) in Chapter Two states “Collecting and documenting oral archival material, preservation and facilitation use thereof in the appropriate scientific way;”

The Oral History and Genealogical Study Section (Section) officially commenced its work in 2009. To insure integrity in its approach and to work according tointernational academic standards the Section signed a memorandum of understanding for three years (2009-2011) with the Regional Oral History Office of the Library of Bancroft at the University of California at Berkeley – United States – concerning the establishment of an educational collaboration in the field of Oral History and Supervision.


Oral History Project (Project)

Oral history is the recording and preservation of oral trans-generational, societal and historical facts as related to National Archives researchers. Audiovisual digitalrecordings capture and preserve eyewitness i.e. personal experience accounts of community’s elders and pioneers. These multi-media recordings are thentranscribed and indexed according to their topics. The objective of the Project is the preservation of the intricate details of UAE social history, its heritage,handicrafts and cultural practices by making the recorded interviews accessible to present and future generations. The Project seeks to preserve and relate historicalevents as conveyed by societal leaders as well as through the memories of ordinary people.


Specific Project Objectives:

· Set the standard for integrity of the National Archives by utilizing best practices and benchmarking in all its practices and policies.

· Record the sequence of historical events from the recollections and memoirs as related by community elders who are the credible historical references in order to fill those gaps not addressed in the existing historical documents.

· Augment the existing National Archives’ database and preserving the growing collection of interviews conducted by researchers and students.

· Educate the youth of historical events and past patterns of living in the different regions of the UAE prior to and post the birth of the Union.

· Foster and encourage cross cultural dialogue among citizens of the world.

· Pursue effective participation in relevant local, regional and international oral history conferences and symposiums.


Project’s Ongoing Accomplishments:

· Publishing the resulting historical, cultural and heritage material in various accessible formats for use by scholars and researchers.

· Presenting and validating the important historical roles held by eyewitness narrators.

· Creating a project website to enhance the society’s awareness and accessibility as well as highlighting the importance of the project in the preservation of UAE history and in strengthening national identity.

· Supporting researchers in their examination of historical documents by providing comparative oral histories related by eyewitness contemporaries.



· Since 2010 the team has provided a series of lectures and training to over 700 students in higher education on research methodologies and how to conduct oral history interviews. Students from Zayed University (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), United Arab Emirates University, the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi as well as other interested parties from different local entities have been trained.


Project Achievements:

  • Conducted over 800 interviews.
  • “Their Memory is Our History” (book in progress 2014).
  • Published three UAE traditional short stories.
  • Compiled a book on UAE greetings (ready for print).
  • Established and support the Young Historian Award since 2008.
  • Ongoing training to university students.
  • UAE Dialect dictionary (in progress).
  • Increased the collection of National Archives’ resources to further include, maps, documents and pictures.
  • Established traditional UAE poems Collection.
  • Participated in the preparation workshop for the periodic report to UNESCO on the intangible cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates 2011.



Media Coverage:

  • Cooperation between the National Center for Documentation and Ibn Majid Association (Arabic)
  • «National Documentation and Research>> is organizing lectures at Zayed University (Arabic) National Center for Documentation monitors heritage popular events in the country during the festival “Liwa Date” (Arabic)
  • Wing of the National Center for Documentation and Research in Liwa Date receives media and VIPs (Arabic)
  • National Center for Documentation and Research in the UAE .. So as not to miss oral history (Arabic)
  • Working on documenting the history of UAE through oral heritage, Aisha Belkhair: old people are our treasures (Arabic)
  • Voices from the past come to life Bushra al Hashemi – the National


  • Preserving the Nation’s Lullabies