SOME THOUGHTS AFTER BUENOS AIRES CONFERENCE
Dear colleagues and friends:
I would like to use the opportunity to greet you after the Buenos Aires conference from my new position of Past President, a circumstance which, I have to say, makes me feel more comfortable in the moment of formulating some opinions.
Same as all of you who have participated in the last conference, I have been sorting out my reflections, emotions and experiences (both positive and negative) from this meeting. The post-conference time is, in my view, a good time to reflect on what has been the positive lesson to be taken over and what thing should better be avoided in the future.
As very positive I consider the fact that the conference has at all taken place, also with regard to the present situation when we have no next venue for the 18th IOHA conference. I also appreciate a lot the organizers’ efforts to create the best conditions in situ; however their efforts were colliding with problems which had unfortunately occurred during the conference organization in the past year.
In no case I want to take myself out and as the then President I do feel my part of responsibility. On the other hand I would like to indicate that the IOHA President is to a significant extent dependent on how the local organizers conceive the conference. In my personal case I absolutely didn´t feel capable of influencing things which I had repeatedly suggested to the local organizing team: to set up the blocks by theme, to plan the interest group sessions not for the last day but in the middle of the conference, to strengthen communication with all those participants who shared some concerns, etc.
The biggest disappointment and also surprise to me was a totally insufficient and inadequately managed translation from Spanish to English. This is something I truly didn´t have the slightest idea of. Also, until the very last moment of the conference opening, our efforts to make the AHORA organizers share with us the mailing list of participants failed (despite their promises), neither did we get the exact number of participants and the information of their countries of origin.
The missing translation of the presentations (compared to the Czech Republic Argentina has the advantage of Spanish speaking country, i. e. translation to one language only was necessary) blocked effective interconnections between English and Spanish speaking participants, reactions on presented papers, possibilities of further cooperation, etc. Many English speaking colleagues felt more like guests of an AHORA conference that an IOHA conference. Also, many colleagues from Europe, US or Australia had to incur substantial costs in order to attend the conference.
I want to point out that this is no personal negative criticism. I am writing down my observations only in order to help avoiding these mistakes in the future conferences. The mutual understanding and a common language is for us an instrument of our work and of transferring our experience across the globe. Conscience of this should shape our efforts for the next time. It would be advisable to make the next conference candidate undergo more thorough and in-depth examination. Certain embarrassment was also caused also by the impossibility of online conference registration and by payments of registration fees on the spot. Therefore it would be good that the organizers come up with an accurate report, specifying how many people attended the conference, how much was raised and whether IOHA profited or lost. I believe that the new Council should insist on the exact calculation, especially taking into account the experience from 2008 when the Guadalajara conference organizers were not able to submit a report on the held conference – not even after many reminders from the then President Pilar Domínguez.
Little practical also seemed to me that the conference took place on 4 different places. With all that said, I reiterate that I do appreciate the effort of the organizing local team and that I feel grateful for being given the possibility to attend the Buenos Aires conference which undoubtedly had things to offer and provided IOHA community a place to meet, share news and learn new lessons. And last but not least – IOHA has a new Council and a new President. Even though I have to say that the election process seemed somehow non-standard to me (in contrast to IOHA´s tradition which respected personal continuity inside the Council and until now the plenum would vote on the President from among the candidates proposed by Council, this year this tradition was broken), it is good to see that oral history has strong positions in Latin America.
I wish both the new President and the new Council much success in its job of promoting oral history around the world! All the best to all!
IOHA Past President for 2012-2014
IOHA MEETS IN BUENOS AIRES
Political preoccupations seem ever present in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Visitors encounter veterans of the Malvinas (Falklands) war who have set up camp in the park outside the government house, Casa Rosada, student demonstrations that take place with some regularity on downtown streets, and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who gather weekly to protest the lack of information about those who disappeared during the military dictatorship. Hovering above the central city and impossible to miss are multi-story images of Eva Perón that appear on two sides of a tall office tower. The political Eva, addressing a microphone, faces the wealthier neighborhoods to the north while on the other side her elegantly dressed image faces the poorer neighborhoods to the south.
It was not surprising, therefore, that much of the IOHA conference held in Buenos Aires focused on oppression, struggle, vulnerability, suffering, discrimination, and contested identity (particularly gender and trans-gender identities). Indeed, the theme of the meeting was “The Challenges of Oral History in the 21st Century: Diversity, Inequality and Identity Construction.” Papers from the host country included using oral history to study of the cult of personality around Juan and Eva Perón and the creation of popular culture through political propaganda; the psychological implications of the military coup; and the affect of the loss of the South Atlantic War on the individual and collective memories of those involved. The program featured extensive work being done throughout Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico, with the majority of papers concerning different theories of oral history, from memory to trauma and subjectivity, particularly using ethnographic methodologies. Some of the papers, notably from Brazil and Columbia, dealt with less somber topics such as sports, museums, literature, and music. A sub-theme running through many of the papers concerned the ways in which digital technologies have revolutionized audio and visual oral history and created new means of disseminating interviews via the Internet.
The program, chaired by Liliana Barela and Pablo Pozzi, offered master classes in conducting and preserving oral history interviews, and a vast array of papers and panels. Since its September 3-7 date conflicted with academic schedules in the northern hemisphere, the Argentine meeting drew more heavily from South American countries, although the program also included participants from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Estonia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.
Sessions took place at several educational and cultural institutions scattered around the city, including the Institute for Marxist Studies, which also served as the local Communist Party headquarters. This created some irony as participants gathered under portraits of Karl Marx and Che Guevara to hear papers documenting the liberation of Eastern Europe from Communist oppression. The Casa del Historiador provided a particularly appropriate historical setting in San Telmo, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, where the tower of the Santo Domingo Convent still bears cannon balls fired by the English during an invasion of the Río de la Plata in 1806. Unlike at previous meetings, there were no organized luncheons, so participants broke into small groups and discovered the abundant diversity of local cuisine.
The program’s efforts to showcase the work of Latin American oral historians and to foster communication with oral historians from around the world were limited by the scarcity of translation, outside of the opening and closing sessions. Future meetings will need to address this problem, possibly by incorporating more plenary sessions with simultaneous translation, to maintain the international nature of the conferences.
Donald A. Ritchie
REVIEW OF THE 17TH INTERNATIONAL ORAL HISTORY CONFERENCE
Held in Buenos Aires from 4 to 7 September 2012, the XVII International Oral History Conference: “The Challenges of Oral History in the 21st Century: Diversity, Inequality and Identity Construction” concluded succsessfully.
For five days we could share and exchange experiences with colleagues from all over the world in discussions and debates that went further the sessions and panels. Co organized by the International Oral History Association and the Asociación de Historia Oral de la República Argentina, the Conference recieved more than 600 participants from the five continents.
The Conference opened on Monday 3th with the traditional Master Classes given by internationally well-known specialists, and focused on subjects such as racism, trauma in post dictatorship periods, ecology and environment, cualitative analysis and use of new technologies to process oral history interviews, archives, the oral history as a political instrument for native and mining communities. During this first day, the historians Verena Alberti, Amilcar Araujo Pereira, Sean Field, Marcos Fabio Freire Montysuma, Juan José Gutierrez, Rob Perks y Mary Stewart, Silvia Rivera Cusicansqui and Ada Marina Lara Meza, shared their working experiences in depth in special classes that included methodology, theory and their own experience of this experts.
The official opening of the Conference took place on Sempember 4th, with the first parallel sessions and documentaries, and closed in Centro Cultural San Marín with te opening conference by Elizabeth Jelín, who retook some ideas refered to memory, her main object of work. In the opening, Dr. Pablo Pozzi, President of AHORA, welcomed colleagues and anounced the First Latin American Oral History Award “Eugenia Meyer”, with the approval of latin american historians and Eugenia Meyer herself, one of the outstanding historians of the Conference. The Award is promoted by the Latin American Oral History Network and aims to estimulate the development of research with oral sources in the continent.
The rest of the working days, historians from all continents got together around more than 60 working sessions with near 10 papers each, in 14 subtemes to discuss proposed by the organization. From the 1000 abstracts recieved originally, near the 60% came to the Conference and participate in the four venues: Centro Cultural de la Cooperación, Centro Cultural San Martín, Centro de Formación Marxista Agosti and Casa del Historiador. All with double shift, activities started at 9 am and continued untill noon, anfer a lunch break that allowed participants to continue exchanging ideas. At the same time, the organizers offered documentaries and panels with specialists from different countries, to give a broader frame to exchange inquiries and oral history.
The various subjects for discussion revolved around archieves and places of memory, audiovisual, helth, genus, memory and politics, militant activity, dictatorship and trauma, work, economy, ecology and environment, migration, exile and diaspora, natives and communities. The languages of exposition were mainly Spanish and English, and Portuguese in some sessions considering the vast presence of Brasilian professionals. This was an important step for integration, proving the empirical reality abour the need of including Portuguese as the third official language of IOHA.
Regarding panels, even if some could not be held, let us discuss in depth some specific subjects such as community, the testomonies from dictatorship and genocide suvivors and the developement of oral history in Latin America. A remarkable aspect of the sessions was the posibility of a deeper debate about “how to do” oral history, making clear the mothodological complexity and the step forward in the field of theorical developement of the different countries. The brotherly atmosphere in the sessions enabled the exchange between expositors and public, that in some cases turned the sessions into real round tables. Among the expositors, we had the outstanding presence of the historians such as Igor Goicovic and Claudio Pérez from Chile, Marieta de Moraes Ferreira from Brazil, Eugenia Meyer and Silvia Dutrenit Bielous from Mexico, Mauricio Archila Neira from Colombia and Josefina Cuesta from Spain.
The closing ceremony was September 6th in Usina de las Artes, where the local committee offered a camaraderie lunch for foreign guests. Pablo Pozzi, President of AHORA, and Liliana Barela, President of the Local Organizing Commettee, gave some reflexive words about professional ethics, new debates about oral history and archives, words that continue circulating for discussion even after the Conference. The closing also offered a show of Buenos Aires traditional music and dances, enthusiastically recieved by the audience.
As e result, we can state that the XVII International Oral History Conference introduced new dicussions that include politics, ethics, academic issues, methodology and theory. It also help to make clear the quantitative and qualitative leap forwarg in Latin America, where most of the participants came from, consolidating a tendency in national and regional conferences in the continent. The exchange of experiences contribbuted to deepen networks and consonidate the links with IOHA, which should look for a greater democratization to make Oral History a tool for people, as it was expressed in various expositions during the Conference. From Argentina, we celebrate the succsess of the event and invite everybody to keep in touch, waiting for future academic meetings.
Two assemblies and a renewal of authorities
In the frame of the Conference, two assemblies were held. The first was the annual assembly of the Asociación de Historia Oral de la República Argentina, held on September 5th, where its members made a provisional evaluation of the Conference and set goals for the next year. One of the members, Yamile Álvarez from Mendoza, proposed to organize the next annual assembly, in which AHORA will renew its authorities, in that province, where the XIII Jornadas Interescuelas will take place in October 2013. The assembly also established a guideline for the realization of old and new projects. In this context, it was decided the position that the Asociación would take to de IOHA assembly, held on September 6th. In that ocation, members of IOHA discussed for more than towo hours, voting a new Council composed by mexican historian Ana María de la O Castellanos as President and Andrea Casa Nova from Brazil and Helen Klaebe from Autralia as Vice Presicents.
By Rubén Kotler.
Member of Argentinian Oral History Association, Latinoamerican Oral History Net, and member of the organizing comission of XVIII Oral History Conference. Translate: Alexia Massholder