Oral History NSW
Giving Voice to the Past
Giving Voice to the Past

Exciting new resource from the State Library of NSW

by | December 5, 2017


A new online guide provides access to the SLNSW Oral History and Sound collections.

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State Library of NSW recently launched an online guide to its Oral History and Sound collections.

Having actively collected oral history and sound since the 1980s, its collection of oral histories, radio interviews, talks, podcasts and recordings of performances and seminars is the largest in NSW and one of the largest in Australia.

The guide explains how to find, then access, the Library's collection, including:

  • Amplify – The Library’s growing collection of online interviews offering access alongside computer-generated transcripts. 
  • Catalogue search - 12,000 hours of analogue and reel to reel taped interviews and sound artefacts, recently digitised to enhance online access in the future.
  • Collection Highlights – which offers a snapshot of significant parts of the oral history and sound collections such as Industry and Working Life, Art and Artists, Local History, Indigenous Australians, Migration, Gay and Lesbian Life and Sydney Harbour.

It also includes listings of other State Library and online resources useful to people studying or interested in oral history theory and practice, promotes a sample of works in the Library’s collection that are the end products of oral history work and has links to over 50 online oral history related websites in Australia and internationally. The guide is to be welcomed as it raises the profile of State Library of NSW's oral history collections considerably.

OH NSW Christmas party

by | November 12, 2017


Join us for Oral History NSW's Christmas Party at History House on Thursday 7 December! Come along to catch up with members, and enjoy the opportunity to connect with New South Wales' oral history community over drinks and nibbles. Bookings and more details at our events page.

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You can find additional details and book here.

OH NSW grant just announced - applications open now

by | November 7, 2017


Oral History NSW is offering a grant of $1200 AUD to support an OH NSW member's attendance at the 2018 Oral History Society (UK) and Oral History Network of Ireland Conference ‘Dangerous Oral Histories’, to be held in Belfast on 28 and 29 June 2018. See the Awards and Grants page for more information and the application form.

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Visit the Award and Grants page for all details.

OHAC 2017 - another view

by Jo Kijas | October 9, 2017


The final of our three reports from recipients of an OH NSW bursary to attend the OHC 2017 conference, from Dr Joanna Kijas.

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‘Moving memories: oral history in a global world’

Perspectives on the Oral History Australia Conference, 2017

Dr Johanna (Jo) Kijas of Kijas Histories has been an independent professional historian since the turn of this century, working for National Parks and Wildlife Service, local councils, museums, government departments, the State Library of NSW and was one of the Generations interviewers. She lives in Lismore on the Far North Coast of NSW.

Seated in the Grand Lodge of the Sydney Masonic Centre (SMC) Conference and Function Centre in downtown Sydney, with trains rumbling overhead and wry reminders of the auditorium’s past, we began three days of engaged and stimulating presentations. I’m a consultant historian from Lismore, Northern NSW, and was lucky enough to gain one of the Oral History NSW bursaries to attend the conference. My professional work in environmental, Indigenous and community histories has nearly always included oral histories. However, it was my long-term voluntary work at the New Italy Museum on the Far North Coast that drove my desire to engage with colleagues this year and think about intergenerational memories as they impact story telling at the Museum. My other trail to follow was the practice of oral history, especially in the digital age.

Picking one’s way across the conference terrain is always a challenge for me. Happily, of course, the start of each day’s journey was clear with the plenary sessions. We were generously welcomed to Country by Uncle Chicka Madden and introduced to the array of themes by the OH NSW president, Anisa Puri. The next two days’ plenary sessions were powerful and challenging, where different ways to understand and read silences in oral history testimony about trauma, loss and remembering across generations were particularly evocative. Dr Indira Chowdhry explored tensions between silenced memories of Partition and the national focus on celebrating Indian independence, while among her devastating stories of Eastern and Central Europe, Professor Dalia Leinarte suggested that sometimes silences occur because there is nothing to say. She discussed ways she has tried to use oral history for social change, particularly amongst ignored and silenced women.

The final plenary panel looked to future directions in oral history at home and abroad. Professor Alistair Thomson reminded us of some of the revolutionary moments that have led to our confident professional practice today and where the 'sensory turn', 'embodied histories' and the 'history of emotions' might take us into the future. One of the key challenges that he raised regarded future-proofing our interviews, where he argued that the national and state libraries are probably the only really safe places into the long-term future.  Sarah Rood took us through a high-energy Prezi presentation on new technologies and oral history. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to grimace in recognition at her early career memory of poorly recorded interviews, where the focus was on content and not on sound production. Today the landscape has changed radically as we upload the voices of our interviewees to the web, meaning that high quality sound production is now essential for us all. Dr Siobhan McHugh cheerfully offered podcasting as the solution to most things, when it comes to continuing the oral history tradition of democratic, accessible and discoverable story telling. She pointed out the intimacy of podcasting as, usually wearing headphones, the story is directed straight into one’s ear as a personal encounter. Hamish Sewell closed in locating stories in place, describing projects conducted with often vulnerable people where they can have agency. He then returned to the concern of safeguarding interviews, sharing stories of audio archives that have disappeared, even from large institutions. This dominated much of the discussion that followed as comments turned to bit rot, unusable digital files and redundant technologies. Ethical practice and adapting and expanding professional standards as new technologies democratise oral history recording were also discussed. Despite the many challenges ahead, the concluding remarks centered on the exciting prospects that have opened as we present oral histories in new and ever changing ways, and to new audiences across the globe.

Once the plenary sessions finished each day, a road map was needed. Unavoidably, there were many difficult T junctions and unbridgeable parallel paths. My most enjoyable day was Friday, where my journey focused on the practice of oral history in its diversity. I was thoroughly engaged by Ass Prof Janice Wilton’s roundtable romp through teaching and learning oral history. Janice had gathered an eminent and varied panel from academia (Dr Sue Anderson), the National Library (Shelly Grant) and consultant oral historians (Elaine Rabbit and Sarah Rood). Each person was asked to provide two issues of significance to them when teaching oral history process. They included dealing with the digital revolution, ethics and responsibilities, maximising the sound environment, cultural differences and protocols, the importance of research and listening skills, understanding how memory works and the constant need to reflect on one’s own practice. Lively discussion emerged around the differences between oral history interviewing and journalism, the essential requirement of consent and different ways to get it, preparing interview questions, the reasons for doing interviews and what one plans to do with them. Strategies were swapped. I wanted some help on strategies in conducting our open-ended, life-story interviewing style, while also managing to elicit the snappy podcasting gems. Anyone offering a NSW workshop?

After lunch, I attended the thought provoking session ‘Being an interviewer and an interviewee’. Dr Jodie Boyd, now a practicing oral historian, reflected on her experience of being on the other side as an interviewee and the disquiet she felt in the aftermath of the interview. She noted that little has been written about the narrator’s experience of the interview process. Despite having volunteered for the project and enjoyed a convivial interview, her disquiet emerged on reflection about her place on the outside, where the power of the interview remains in much part with the interviewer. Her experience led her to acknowledge the inequality of the interview process and she is now working through how that impacts her current practice as an interviewer. Kelly Navies from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture reflected on her journey as an undergraduate to uncover the story of her great-great-grandmother who was born into slavery and lived to over 100 years old. Kelly interviewed relatives across the US, leading to a career which has included interviewing hundreds of African Americans about their histories. She reflected on how her own position as an African American woman has influenced her oral history collecting and telling.

The variety of papers and people across the diverse ‘oral history community’, nationally and from abroad, made for a lively and motivating conference. I promise never to conduct an interview in a café and I’ll think differently about silences. Thanks to a great conference team: Anisa Puri, Dr Scott McKinnon, Virginia Macleod and Dr Paula Hamilton. 

Hazel de Berg Award for Oral History 2017

by | October 1, 2017


The winner of this prestigious award was announced at the opening event of the OHA conference. Hazel de Berg's daughter Diana Ritch was there to present it and gave an informative and also touching speech about her mother and her mother's work, speaking both as a fellow professional oral historian and a daughter. Dr Karen George was the recipient of the award this year and Kevin Bradley received a certificate of commendation. The judges were Paula Hamilton, Paul Ashton and Roslyn Burge. Read the citations for both awardees on the blog.

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The Hazel de Berg Award 2017 for Excellence in Oral History

Awarded to Dr Karen George

Dr Karen George’s extensive career exemplifies all that is inspiring about working in oral history. She has spent many years amplifying the voices of those normally overlooked or forgotten by others and has participated as an oral historian in some of the most important national projects in Australia, such as the ‘Bringing Them Home’ Oral History project (1999-2002) and the ‘Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants Oral History project’ (2009-2012). These two projects underline her strong commitment over time to Indigenous people and children vulnerable to abuse in state institutions.

 Karen developed important relationships working with Indigenous South Australians through her research for Link-Up SA on the history and records of homes into which members of the Stolen Generations were placed as children. As a measure of trust, she has also been employed by Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia over the last few years and carried out 30 oral histories to write a history of their community centre.  In relation to children, Karen has worked for the South Australian section of the Find and Connect Website where she was made a Research Fellow from 2011-2014. From 2005 to 2007 she worked as research historian and writer for the South Australian Government’s Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry.

As a professional historian and researcher, Karen has given papers at national conferences, and published widely utilising oral history research for her many projects. She also worked as the Oral Historian for the City of Adelaide from 1993-2001. Finally, as a long-time volunteer member of OHA South Australia, she has served as president and committee member for over 20 years, regularly presented workshops on oral history ethics and practice, generously sharing her expertise and mentoring others. Karen George has spent much of her working life and time volunteering over the last two decades, tirelessly promoting and building the profile of oral history both in South Australia and nationally. 

The Hazel de Berg Award 2017 for Excellence in Oral History - Certificate of Commendation

Awarded to Kevin Bradley

This Oral History Australia certificate of commendation is awarded to Kevin Bradley in recognition of his role for many years as Oral History Curator at the National Library of Australia, and his dedication to raising the profile of oral history in this country.  First, Oral History Australia commends his implementation of several large and important projects which have helped to amplify the voices of those traditionally unable to speak in public and have contributed to public debates about social issues. Second, we commend his farsighted leadership in preservation and archiving at the national library, which has ensured that oral histories are preserved and accessible now and for subsequent generations.  Finally, we acknowledge his advocacy for Oral History Australia conferences over a number of years.

Below: OHA conference opening night September 13 - (L-R) Award presenter Diana Ritch, Kevin Bradley, OH NSW president Anisa Puri, National Library of Australia's Margy Burn who opened the conference, Dr Karen George, then-OHA president Sue Anderson.

OHAC 2017 - further feedback

by Cheryl Ware | September 30, 2017


Check the blog for the second of three reports on the recent OHA conference by the recipients of OH NSW bursaries. This one is by Dr Cheryl Ware, who presented at the conference as part of the Gender, Sexuality and Trauma panel.

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‘Moving Memories’: The Oral History Australia Conference 2017

Dr Cheryl Ware is an oral historian with interests in histories of health, HIV/AIDS, and sexuality. She currently teaches in the School of History at Australian National University.

 I was fortunate to attend the Oral History Australia Conference was held in Sydney from September 13-16. The conference was an incredibly thought-provoking experience. It brought together oral historians working on memories of trauma, migration, activism, family histories, and digital histories, among other areas. The diverse range of speakers and research topics led to three days of meaningful discussions about working with communities, ethics and informed consent, key themes in oral history, and innovative ways to communicate these histories to wider audiences.

 The conference was true to its theme, ‘Moving Memories: Oral History in a Global World’. Presenters demonstrated how memories can move across time and space, with papers that explored stories of migration, seeking refuge, belonging, and individuals’ connections to place. The panels on family histories and intergenerational memories were particularly striking reminders of how memories move across generations (Alex Dellios' conference report provides a important overview of the sessions on family memories). ‘Moving Memories’ also reflects how we are emotionally moved by the memories that emerge during oral history interviews. I presented alongside others who were also exploring individuals’ memories of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Scott McKinnon’s analysis of the connections between gay men’s memories of HIV and AIDS activism and more recent natural disasters, and Robert Reynolds’ and Shirleene Robinson’s discussions of the valuable work of volunteers during the HIV and AIDS epidemic were especially touching.   

 I was also intrigued by discussions about the significance of silence, which was a key theme across many of the individual papers, plenary sessions, and performances. Such discussions were apparent from the very first session with Dr Indira Chowdhury’s keynote address. Dr Chowdhury spoke of both the silence regarding the Partition of India in 1947 and how this silence was challenged with the emergence of oral history interviews in the 1990s. She also raised concerns that the Partition will be, once again, wiped from public memory in favour of histories of Indian nationalism. Nien Yuan Cheng has provided an insightful examination of Dr Chowdhury’s keynote and the discussion that followed. 

Professor Dalia Leinarte’s keynote about her work on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Committee was especially engaging. Focusing on ‘silence and amnesia’ in the biographical accounts Eastern and Central Europeans in aftermath of World War Two, Professor Leinarte explored reasons why interviewees may remain silent: the pain of reliving traumatic experiences, stigma which prevents individuals coming to terms with their experiences, and interviewees’ deliberate efforts to hide these memories. Oral historians continually deal with silence in interviews. Together, Dr Chowdhury’s and Professor Leinarte’s keynotes presented compelling assessments of identifying, analysing, and challenging these silences.

 The use of oral history as testimony was most clear during the panel: ‘The Power of Storytelling: Listening and Writing for the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse’. Pip Newling, Ruth Melville, and Sally Zwartz spoke about their experiences as writers for the Royal Commission. With the permission of the survivors, they listened to the recorded discussions with commissioners and wrote de-identified narratives based on these oral testimonies. These narratives will feature in the Royal Commission’s final report that will be delivered to the Governor-General in December. The panel raised important points about how individuals bear witness as speakers, listeners, readers and writers. They also reflected on the choices they made as writers, especially regarding what parts of the testimonies they include and what parts they leave out. The panel led to important discussions about the choices individuals make when turning oral testimonies into written documents.

 The idea of choice was perhaps a more implicit theme that ran throughout the conference, especially regarding discussions about methodology: who we choose to interview and which questions we choose to ask. We also make careful choices when we disseminate research findings, be it through films, interactive websites, podcasts, or in academic writing (or conferences!)

Another important theme was the role of activism in oral histories. The roundtable discussion by Scott McKinnon from Oral History NSW, John Witte from Rainbow Voices Hunter, Shirleene Robinson from Pride History Group, and Sarah Rood from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives was a testament to how community groups have utilised oral history to bring previously unheard voices, and histories, to a wider audience. Having listened to oral history interviews collected by some of these groups, I was really interested in hearing about their ever-expanding collections and innovative use of technology to communicate these LGBTIQ histories to the public (PridePod and Daylesford Stories are especially notable examples!), and plans for the future.

 Other panels, including ‘Activism and Advocacy’, ‘Gender, Sexuality and Trauma’ and ‘Community Development’ also dealt with various forms of activism. Victoria Gwyn delivered a deeply moving paper whereby she interweaved her personal experiences working at the Australian War Memorial with a broader commentary on how oral history can aid advocacy and inclusion for minority-identifying individuals. Oral history and activism also emerged in different ways. Lynette Shum from the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand recounted providing oral history training to individuals affiliated with 79-day occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui in 1995. As Lynette mentioned, the area made international headlines earlier this year when the Whanganui iwi won a longstanding battle to have the Whanganui river (pictured) granted the legal rights of a person.

The conference not only provided an important platform to share research findings, but it also created a supportive space to discuss the practical, methodological and ethical issues that can arise when conducting and analysing oral history interviews. Storage was another key issue that emerged. This was addressed most explicitly during the final plenary session titled ‘New Directions in Oral History’. The presenters, Alistair Thomson, Siobhan McHugh, Hamish Sewell and Sarah Rood, with Paula Hamilton as the chair, reflected on new uses of oral histories and factors to consider when we explore the most suitable ways to preserve oral history interviews. This will be an ongoing discussion as we deal with new technologies that make interviews accessible to wider audiences while abiding by the restrictions interviewees place on the recordings. The important message, however, was to work with communities to ensure the interviews are preserved and accessible in the years to come.

Finally, I would like to thank Anisa Puri, Scott McKinnon, Paula Hamilton and Virginia McLeod for organising such a rich and engaging conference.

Below: Whanganui River, which gained legal personhood under the Te Awa Tupua
(Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017.
Published with the permission of the photographer, Oliver Strewe.


OHA's new president shares 'first thoughts'

by Al Thomson | September 26, 2017


The newly elected president of Oral History Australia, replacing Sue Anderson, is Alistair Thomson, Professor of History at Monash University in Melbourne and a pre-eminent oral historian in Australia and internationally. In his first communication with members in his new role, he shares his views on what he sees as priorities for OHA and its national committee.

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From Oral History Australia President – First Thoughts - 23 September 2017

I’m both honoured and delighted to be elected President of Oral History Australia at the recent AGM. First of all I want to pay credit to Sue Anderson for her stalwart work, in many capacities including President, over the last several years. As our journal editor and international representative Sue will continue to play a key role.

I thought I’d use this first email to highlight my first thoughts about OHA priorities over the next year or so. These thoughts are underpinned by my passion for oral history; my enjoyment in the diversity of our practice (community groups, professional historians, cultural institutions, academics from many disciplines, media workers, artists and performers, and so on); the thrill of the imaginative ways we record people’s stories and create histories in many ways and forms; but above all the fact that we all like asking people to tell us their story and then making those stories into extraordinary histories that make a difference.

First, I’d like to help the national OHA COMMITTEE to be a fun, effective and collegial group which works together to make things happen. Perhaps our main role is to support the state and territory oral history associations, and their members, who are the heart and soul of oral history activity around the country. By working together we can ensure that each association benefits from and contributes to the others, that we don’t all reinvent the same wheel. We can do that through the national committee and by communicating effectively with state committees; and we can do that through our website, journal and biennial conference – and perhaps in news ways using emerging means of communication. We are all volunteers on Oral History committees, and all have other hats, so I’m mindful of ensuring that none of us is over-burdened or over-stressed by our OHA voluntary work.

Second, I’ve always believed the BIENNIAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE is a essential event, and by rotating in turn around the states and territories we share the work but also ensure that each region gets a chance to showcase its work and boost membership and enthusiasm for oral history in the host state. At the recent AGM it was agreed that national committee needs to make a significant financial contribution towards the state-run conference, but also that the national committee will help coordinate a national conference program committee that will develop the conference program and work alongside the state host association which manages local arrangements. I am very much hoping our Queensland colleagues will agree to host the 2019 conference, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to help out and make it a success. Just a week or so after I returned from England to live in Australia ten years ago I attended the last national oral history conference in Queensland (in Brisbane), and for me that was a wonderful home-coming to the vibrant and welcoming Australian oral history movement. I look forward to returning in 2019!

Third, we’ll work with our new national web officer Judy Hughes (a coopted member of the national committee) to improve the NATIONAL WEBSITE, to coordinate the links between national and state websites, and to consider ways of generating a more dynamic and participatory online presence for Australian oral history.

Fourth, we’ll support Sue as best we can to increase submissions to and raise the profile of our ORAL HISTORY AUSTRALIA JOURNAL.

Fifth, where appropriate we’ll be a NATIONAL ADVOCATE FOR ORAL HISTORY, for example if a state collection or institution is threatened, or by showcasing and celebrating wonderful and innovative Australian oral history work. A few months ago the national committee agreed to initiate two Oral History Australia prizes, a book award and a multimedia award. We’ll now work on the process and criteria for the awards with a view to presenting inaugural prizes in 2019.

Finally, those of you who attended the fantastic recent OHA conference in Sydney – thanks OHNSW! – may have heard me talk in the New Directions session about the risks and challenges of FUTURE PROOFING ORAL HISTORY. We all know that our analogue oral history reels and cassettes are slowly dying, though we’re perhaps not quite so alert to the risks for digital (or digitised) interviews. In short, even digital records are fallible, and as digital platforms evolve old digital formats can become unusable. In recent years I’ve begun to believe that only the major state and national archival institutions can future-proof oral history collections so they will last for hundreds of years, if not for ever. For the most part, only they have the resources, expertise and stability to ensure the long-term future of digital records. I’m also aware there are many wonderful oral history collections around the country (in local history societies, in local libraries, with community groups, in academics’ studies etc) that may be lost. I’d like to start working towards an Australian Voices project  - ‘Saving Australia’s Oral History Heritage’ - based upon an equivalent current project in the UK, that will bring together key stakeholders (national, state and local) to raise funds, to identify at risk oral histories, to develop plans and protocols for their survival, and to ensure that oral histories recorded in the future have the best chance of survival. I’d like to imagine that in 10 years we will look back and say that Oral History Australia helped make that happen.

Exciting times! I look forward to working with you all.

Alistair Thomson, President, Oral History Australia


OHA Conference 2017 - been and gone

by | September 18, 2017


What a great conference it was - stimulating, engaging, friendly. Visit the OH NSW blog for the first of three reports on the event by the recipients of OH NSW bursaries, which provided financial assistance to help them to attend. 

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Global voices? OHA Conference 2017

CHENG Nien Yuan is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. Her research explores the idea of oral history as performative in Singapore, and questions the assumptions of empowerment in oral history in this context. Ultimately she hopes to find a socioculturally appropriate way of subverting the state’s top-down oral history practice at home. For this conference she presented on ‘embodying’ the transcript with moving memories, derived from a forthcoming article in the Oral History Review (2018).

The conference was opened by OH NSW President Anisa Puri, who spoke a few words before introducing our first keynote speaker Dr Indira Chowdhury. Ms Puri remarked that what’s so wonderful about an oral history conference in Australia is the diverse group of people in attendance: academics, family historians, activists, librarians, and everybody in-between. As I looked around the room, one thing I did notice was the number of women in attendance who encompassed all these roles and more, from professors like Dr Violet Johnson, who would later give a gut-wrenching and inspiring paper about migrants from Sierra Leone in the United States, to performers like Lillian Rodrigues-Pang who breathed life into its main gathering space by installing a podcast exhibition called ‘A Mile in My Shoes’, which beautifully showcased ‘shoe stories’ from members of SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance for Refugee Families).

Indeed, Dr Chowdhury set the ‘key note’ to what would be one of the most enriching conference experiences I’ve had in my candidature so far. I had heard Dr Chowdhury speak at the International Oral History Association conference in Bangaluru the year before. The locale and cultural milieu of that conference had spurred a lot of discussion about oral history beyond Anglo-American contexts, and I’m glad that Dr Chowdhury brought this discussion to Sydney. She gave an illuminating talk on the Partition of India in 1947, and its stories of displacement and dispersal, weaving in her own family history as well. While it was a talk about a specific moment in South Asian history and its ramifications, many issues resonated with the people in the room, as the Q&A session indicated: oral history pedagogy in an age of conservatism; memory and dementia; nostalgia (normally dismissed) as resistance to state narratives; the connections between oral history and literary studies. It was a great way to get the conference going.

 The beautiful thing about oral history conferences is the promise of some storytelling in every panel and every room, no matter which session you choose to go to. Importantly, this storytelling is never couched in uncritical or apolitical terms, or steeped in the false belief that storytelling is emancipatory in itself – so-called ‘giving voice to the voiceless’. The presenters that I saw were very aware of the institutional, national and cultural contexts of their stories, and often were reflexive about their approach. In this context I’d like to highlight an incredibly illuminating panel in the conference’s second day, on “Being an Interviewer and an Interviewee”. There were only two talks in this panel, one for each aspect. It was well-attended, and rightfully so: interviewing and being interviewed is the crux of our practice.

 First was Dr Jodie Boyd’s contentious and timely paper on what her experiences of being an interviewee taught her about the politics of interviewing. Approached to be part of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Life Stories Oral History Project, Dr Boyd, reflecting on the interview, was uncomfortable on several levels: being ‘catalogued’ as a ‘lesbian’ in the collection’s archive, as if that were the only thing defining her identity; being steered during the interview to conform to the classic ‘coming-out’ story; becoming cognisant of the hetero-normative, institutional frameworks which underpinned such a oral history project. Dr Boyd was very careful not to criticise the interviewer and the oral history project per se, placing responsibility instead on problems in the field itself, or what she calls the ‘myth of equality’ in oral history, between the interview and the interviewee. To be fair, this myth has been called out many times, for example by feminist oral historians in the now-classic Women’s Words (1991), or in anthologies such as Oral History Off the Record (2013). But I have never come across it put so clearly from the perspective of an interviewee, who admittedly can only voice her concerns because of her very complicity and privilege within oral history institutions - which gave her not only a platform in this conference, but also the academic wherewithal to be what she called a ‘critical interpreter’ of her own interview. Many of our interviewees do not have that privilege. What then? How do we ameliorate this issue? This was a question we were left with after her talk.

 Dr Kelly Navies, museum specialist from the Smithsonian in Washington DC brought us to a very different geographical and conceptual space from the perspective of the interviewer. How did her lived experiences as an African American woman with a rich family history of storytelling shape her career? Her experiences were very appropriate to the conference’s theme of ‘moving memories’, for her work has brought her from California to North Carolina. Dr Navies’ Berkeley professor refused to give her a recommendation to go to North Carolina for her graduate studies, perceiving it to be 20 years behind in terms of its treatment of African Americans and their history! That said, UNC Chapel Hill and the Southern Oral History Program has been such a strong presence in oral history in the United States, with people like E. Patrick Johnson and Della Pollock in the forefront pushing for more innovative and socially responsible representations of oral history (namely, to understand oral history as performance and performative). Navies’ work in particular has made her a champion for African American voices in the country’s capital and political centre at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

This panel was just a taste, a microcosm if you like, of the diversity of viewpoints expressed at this conference. For instance, I personally did not expect - at a conference based in Australia, organised by an Australian association ‘ to meet fellow Southeast Asians like Kevin Bathman (‘The Chindian Diaries’) and Hanis Diyana Kamarudin (from the newly-established Malaysian Oral History Association) doing work so close to home. After presenting my paper I received feedback that I could immediately apply to the article I was working on. It is this face-to-face immediacy as well as the camaraderie I experienced (at no point was I awkwardly alone in the corner, even though I came not knowing anyone!) throughout, that made this conference special. These are the good points of a globalising oral history field. Nonetheless, we must also acknowledge the inequalities of such a phenomenon. I thank Oral History Australia for the much-needed bursary that allowed me to attend, but conferences like this are often prohibitively expensive for people from a less privileged background. These are some concerns that, in a field championing the voices of the marginalised, we must address for oral history in a global world.

Below: Nien (right) and Hanis

IOHA conference June 2018 - deadline for papers extended

by | September 9, 2017


A second call for papers has just been announced for the 20th IOHA Congress, to be held from June 18 to 20, 2018 in Jyväskylä, Finland.  The deadline for proposals  has been extended until the 2nd of October 2017. The theme of the conference is Memory and Narration. All the details here.

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Details about the conference and the call for papers are here.

Alert - hackers successfully target IOHA website

by | September 8, 2017


The International Oral History Association's website has been hacked. The IOHA has issued the following notice: 

A false website claiming to be for IOHA has appeared under the address iohanet.org.  We don’t know who created this site, or why.  For your own protection please do not share any information with this site.  Our site is secure at ioha.org and membership functions and paypal have not been compromised in any way.  We apologize for this situation and will continue to investigate.  Thank you for your patience as we work to improve IOHA.

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A false website claiming to be for IOHA has appeared under the address iohanet.org.  We don’t know who created this site, or why.  For your own protection please do not share any information with this site.  Our site is secure at ioha.org and membership functions and paypal have not been compromised in any way.  We apologize for this situation and will continue to investigate.  Thank you for your patience as we work to improve IOHA.

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