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From Indiana University participant Jim Lane’s “My South African Adventure:”
Monday, June 24: First day of the conference. Breakfasted with…Gunhan Danisman,…Paul Thompson…Humphrey from Pretoria, and Maori New Zealander Rachael. At the plenary session a Kwa-Zulu Natal official in full regalia welcomed us, and the university president made several references to the conference theme, “The Power of Oral History: Memory, Healing and Development” (non-practitioners are often our most elegant champions)…. Gave conference organizer Philippe my secretary Ginger’s e-mail address in case Angie gives birth like happened two years ago with James. Philippe’s smile reminds Kate of a young Jerry Lewis, whose movies had me in stitches as a kid…
Tuesday, June 25: Last evening’s entertainment included a Zulu storyteller, topless teenage dancers, and a syncopated, soulful choir dressed to the nines. After an omelet, pancakes, and Maxwell House instant coffee, I learned about South African “Memory Boxes” for families of AIDS victims. A UCLA archivist related how four transcribers recreated the same interview quite differently (one reason I do all mine). Paul Thompson and Jamaican-Canadian Elaine Bauer analyzed “Mixed Relationships and Multicultural Identities.” White Southerners called the phenomenon miscegenation; Hawaiians labeled their offspring cosmopolitan…. Such couplings are, I believe, the hope of the future. An intriguing paper by Alistair Thomson dealt with English returnees. Most recalled adventures in Australia as “the time of their lives.” Could the same be said for Eastern Europeans who labored 72 hours a week in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana? Doubtful. Ran into Nigerian Funso [Afolayan] , whom I got to know while sailing down the Bosphorus two Junes ago with 2000 IOHA conference participants. Following an inspired pitch by Alessandro Portelli, members voted to meet next in Rome (great; I’ve never been to Italy although runner-up Barcelona would have been cool)….
Wednesday, June 26: A presentation on South Africa’s Reconciliation project brought tears to my eyes. Affable breakfast companion William Schneider reported on an exciting Alaskan multi-media project…. Gunhan [Danisman] spoke engagingly about interviewing Bogazici U[niversity, Istambul] colleagues. … At a game preserve we gawked at giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, wart hogs, rhinos, and ostriches (including two getting it on)…. Submerged hippos made fantastic noises. No elephants unfortunately. Brazilians and I celebrated the team’s World Cup 1-0 semifinal victory (it was on the radio)….
Thursday, June 27: At breakfast a Zimbabwean scholar claimed Mobutu had no choice but to accede to squatter demands. Wish former IUN colleague Rhiman Rotz were alive to get his reaction. He listened to Zimbabwe radio over the Internet. Perused my “Hospital Strike” paper one final time to make absolutely certain it came in under 20 minutes….
A New Member’s Review of the XIIIth International Oral History Conference, Rome
The International Oral History Association biannual conference was an important opportunity for me, a budding academic on my first conference, to share and learn from others about current projects, new techniques and research developments. My presentation, “Oral History: a credible witness for global organisations”, was delivered “incident free,” although I felt a bit of a fraud discussing my work collating the 50 year history of Outward Bound Australia, while surrounded by historical figures dating many centuries. I was encouraged by a colleague who reminded me that collecting our history has to start somewhere-the important part is that we do.
A highlight of the conference for me was the connections and relationships I could establish with international academic colleagues. With the conference attracting over 400 delegates from more than 40 nations, all working on extremely diversely interesting topics, I could discover tips from experts first hand and note new trends in technology that are currently being explored. There were so many fascinating speakers to choose from-the hardest task was determining how one could logistically attend as many as possible, but a quick round-up of highlights for me were: Albert Lichtblau, from Austria, who spoke about capturing an audio visual history, Antonio Montenegro, from Brazil spoke about imperialism or the cultural movement in all cultures, Richard Hill and Brigette Bönisch-Brednich shared their work on reconciliation in New Zealand and how the two parties “talk past each other”-not fully understanding each other. Diana Mulinari and Nora Rathzel of Sweden spoke of women of 1968 called “inside /outside,” discussing how one’s identity can be negotiated.
Donald Ritchie (US) was very interesting-especially to meet him after I had researched his work extensively for my own project. Kate Moore’s (Finland) “Laughter-take it seriously”, was an insightful look at her current research into the connection between laughter and memory. “Project Jukebo” (http://uaf-db.uaf.edu/Jukebox/PJWeb/pjhome.htm), by William Schneider, was a discerning example of capturing a community, while using various technologies to do so. He said, “In the end, we can define oral history as the genre of discourse that morality and writing ‘talk to each other’ about the past”, which is worth considering. Alistair Thompson (UK) examined different source material available to a researcher (e.g. letters and journals) and how each call for a different type of understanding.
Anna Green’s (NZ) presentation on collective memory and the move in life narratives towards social history and away from the individual was important to me and the community history I am currently involved with. Paula Hamilton (Australia), tried to frighten potential visitors to the 2006 Sydney conference with a presentation entitled, “Shark! Oral History and Fear” (actually, I think she was promoting Australia by using reverse psychology). Rina Benmayor, our incoming president, gave a visual display of life stories through digital storytelling. Digital storytelling workshops are an integral part of my current research, as is online archiving and so both Sherna Berger Gluck’s (US) example of the virtual oral /aural history archive (http://salticid.nmc.csulb.edu/cgi-bin/WebObjects/OralAural.woa/wa/collection?pt=109&ww=956&wh=585) and Michael Frisch’s presentation, “Putting the Oral Back in Oral History” using qualitative analysis programs like his software program. Interclipper Professional (www.interclipper.com), were of great interest.
Besides the academic value of the conference, I gained a greater understanding of the organisation itself and am proud to be a newer member of the association. I only hope we in Australia can begin to compare to the generosity and kindness of our host city Rome and the tireless work of Alessandro Portelli (and his dedicated staff) when we meet again in Sydney, in 2006.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia