It was a great honor to be elected President of the International Oral History Association at the tenth anniversary conference in Sydney, July 2006. This is my first newsletter report to the IOHA membership. I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and then outline some recent and prospective IOHA developments.
I believe that oral history illuminates the lived experience of forgotten pasts, brings rich pleasure and affirmation to the elderly and indeed anyone with a life story to tell, and creates histories that challenge silence and provoke social change. I conducted my first oral history interview in Melbourne in 1979 and since then have worked as an oral historian in Britain and Australia as a freelance interviewer and in academic and community projects. For the past 15 years I have taught oral history in an adult education department at the University of Sussex, and have been a co-editor of the British journal Oral History. From 1996 to 2000 I was a Vice-President in the first IOHA Council and helped to create and co-edit our journal Words and Silences. Coming back onto the Council after six years I have been impressed by the ways in which IOHA has matured as an organization: the Council now has regular biannual on-line meetings; a translation coordinator ensures our bilingual effectiveness; we have a regular newsletter published on our website; and we are able to fund scholarships for oral historians who would not otherwise be able to attend our conferences.
The Fourteenth International Oral History Conference in Sydney was a resounding success. Janis Wilton, Rosie Block, Paula Hamilton and their many Australian supporters hosted a conference that was stimulating and friendly, efficient and great fun. For the first time the conference produced a booklet of bilingual abstracts of all the presentations, with full papers all available on a CD. A dozen scholars from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and South Asia were supported by conference scholarships funded by IOHA with generous support from individual donors and the national oral history associations of the US, UK, Brazil and Australia. Profits from Sydney will kick-start the scholarship fund for our next conference. Other successful innovations in Sydney were Oral History Master-classes, which will become a regular feature of the IOHA conference program, and Special Interest Group meetings that we hope will generate continuing discussion through email and the website.
In Sydney the IOHA Council and the General Meeting were wowed by a presentation from Mexican oral historians and agreed that the Fifteenth International Oral History Conference would be held at the university in Guadalajara in 2008. By moving to North America, IOHA completes a global cycle that has taken the conference to each of the six geographical regions of the world: South America (Rio de Janeiro in 1998), Asia (Istanbul 2000), Africa (Pietermaritzburg 2002), Europe (Rome 2004), and Oceania (Sydney 2006). We are already beginning to think about a venue for 2010. Please email me if you are interested!
The new IOHA Council–pictured below–also includes representatives from each geographical region.
While each of us represents a particular geographic region, all Council members will also be active in one or other council committee: fund-raising, processing scholarships, running the conference, developing the website and publications, and so on. Our two Vice-Presidents, Pilar Dominguez and Alexander von Plato, both have extensive experience from membership of previous IOHA Councils. We are indebted to Almut Leh, who continues to serve as Membership and Finance Secretary, and to my predecessor Rina Benmayor, who remains on the Council as immediate Past President and is an invaluable fund of knowledge about the international oral history movement and the workings of our association. I must also introduce two other important ex-officio members of Council: Gerardo Necoechea who will continue as an editor of Words and Silences, and Juan José Gutiérrez who has the new role of IOHA translation coordinator.
Our website is generously hosted by oral historians led by former IOHA President Marieta de Moraes Ferreira at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil. The IOHA newsletter will continue to be published on the website, and we hope to develop more interactive features, perhaps involving the special interest groups established at the Sydney conference.
We are re-thinking the role, content and form of our journal Words and Silences. Our production base in Mexico City has become a little uncertain (and I apologise that the 2005 and 2006 issues have been delayed–they should both be with members within the next six months) so this is a good time for a review. Should the journal be peer-reviewed? Should it be published in paper or on-line, or both? Should it only be available to members? How can it best operate as a forum for an international dialogue about the theory and practice of oral history? Should we work with a commercial publisher? These are important questions–please email me with your ideas or suggestions about the future of our journal.
A report delivered by Almut Leh in Sydney showed that IOHA members often do not renew their membership after the biennial conference, and that although total membership is stable (between 150 and 200) it is not growing. Our Membership Development committee (chaired by Sean Field) is developing a plan of action. As President I will write to all 2004-06 members who have not rejoined the association, and Council members representing geographic regions will have a role to play. IOHA can support the development of new national associations in regions where oral history is taking root. Our new committee on Relations with National Oral History Associations and Movements (chaired by Rob Perks) will develop plans that might include some form of linked membership between IOHA and national associations.
To attract and keep members, IOHA must continue to perform an essential role and offer valuable services to oral historians around the world: the biannual conference and master-classes, an international newsletter and journal, an informative and interactive website, special interests groups, support for emerging oral history work in new regions. Most importantly, IOHA supports and energises an international dialogue between oral historians. It is tremendously exciting to learn from colleagues who are conducting oral history projects on the other side of the world, to realise that we often have common aims and approaches but also to learn from our differences. Oral history is both an intimate encounter and a global conversation. Oral historians are good communicators, so let’s keep listening and talking to each other across national boundaries. I look forward to hearing from you!
Al Thomson [email protected]