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

Oral history with immigrant narrators

by Carol McKirdy | December 9, 2015


Practicing Oral History with Immigrant Narrators, just published in the US, is a new title by Australian oral historian Carol McKirdy.

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In my professional life I have two great loves: my work as a teacher of adult second chance learners and my work as an oral historian. I’m also a trained history teacher and enjoy teaching it immensely. I became an oral historian as a direct result of teaching my adult students, most of whom have a recent migrant and second language background. Through formal educational interviews and during class I heard their stories. Their histories were important, not just personally, but for a broader audience because they were often illustrative of how people experience major world events such as war, diaspora, poverty, civil unrest and resettlement. For numerous reasons, some students wanted to formalise the telling of their stories and oral history is an ideal means, especially for emerging English users. A book I’ve recently had published by US publisher, Left Coast Press, Practicing Oral History with Immigrant Narrators, is based on my experiences with immigrant narrators. The book is part of a series Left Coast Press has on oral history for specific scenarios. For example, US academic Sharon Raynor’s book, currently being written, focuses on interviewing war veterans.

Practicing Oral History with Immigrant Narrators is a practical guide to interviewing people with an immigrant background. My first oral history project collected histories of students from diverse cultures and was published as both oral recordings and as literacy and language learning materials, based on the narratives and mapped to curriculum, for other second chance learners. I expanded my oral history work with several projects with narrators for whom aspects of immigration are irrelevant. Through working as an oral historian I realised that for immigrant narrators and communities there are important considerations and I describe them in Practicing Oral History with Immigrant Narrators.The book covers features that I believe are essential when working with immigrant narrators: how to engage effectively with a unique community and cultural variances, trauma and its impact on an oral history interview, the importance of being acutely aware of the English language, its vagaries for emerging English speakers and the way it is used in an interview, how to use an interpreter and using images effectively and creatively. There is also an introduction to oral history, a guide to executing a project step by step, five case studies from the USA and Australia including the extraordinary work of Denise Phillips with Hazara people and the vast and groundbreaking documentation of the history of Greek people in Australia by Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis. A case study of an oral history project with a Cambodian narrator who experienced life during Pol Pot’s regime is included to demonstrate how such a complex interview can be effective within a framework of language difficulties and the presence of trauma.  

The book’s photos illustrate the text. I love all the photos but my favourite is the picture of a narrator’s wife. The photograph has seawater stains from his time spent as a refugee in an overcrowded Vietnamese fishing boat adrift in open ocean before being rescued by a passing American ship. The original photo is one of the narrator’s most treasured possessions and I am so grateful he allowed its publication.

One of the ideas behind the Practicing Oral History Left Coast Press series is that someone without experience should find the series’ books comprehensive for their particular need. My book is practical rather than academic in tone. It is, however, professionally academically referenced and also has an index, glossary, resources list and practical appendices. Since writing the book I’ve continued my work in this field; working with the Chinese community in the Sutherland Shire to create an oral history legacy and currently I’m recording the voices of people from the various countries in South America who have made the Sutherland Shire their home. I’ve also been working with narrators from Cambodia.

For more details and to buy the book, visit here


Brand new - a third edition of The Oral History Reader

by Alistair Thomson | November 28, 2015


A welcome update to this classic title

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Rob Perks and I have just published the new, third edition of The Oral History Reader, a comprehensive, international anthology combining major, ‘classic’ articles with cutting-edge pieces on the theory, method and use of oral history.

Twenty-seven new chapters introduce the most significant developments in oral history in the last decade to bring this invaluable text up to date, with new pieces on emotions and the senses, on crisis oral history, current thinking around traumatic memory, the impact of digital mobile technologies, and how oral history is being used in public contexts, with more international examples to draw in work from North and South America, Britain and Europe, Australasia, Asia and Africa.

Here’s what reviewers had to say…

'The Oral History Reader continues to be an invaluable resource for students and teachers of oral history, covering a broad range of themes and providing a comprehensive source of theoretical and practical information for, and from, oral historians around the globe.
– Sue Anderson, University of South Australia and President of Oral History Australia

'The first two editions of The Oral History Reader have been a key text for successive generations of oral history students and practitioners. The thoroughly updated third edition will have the same essential status with today’s interviewers. Comprehensively covering all aspects of oral history theory and practice, Perks and Thomson ensure that the classics of oral history writing sit side by side with the best of contemporary scholarship.'
– Andrew Flinn, University College London, UK

'An accessible text suitable for any university-level oral history course, The Oral History Reader condenses oral history’s full complexity through a range of articles, some classics in the field, others pushing new boundaries. All ask provocative questions that will engender important discussion and critical debate, and will well prepare students who venture out into the field.'
– Elise Chenier, Simon Fraser University, Canada


More information and ways to buy here.

Positive feedback for OH NSW workshop

by | November 28, 2015


OH NSW's most recent Capturing Memories workshop received enthusiastic reviews.

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'As an active member of my local historical society, I have interviewed people about their recollections of places and landmarks of historical significance within the community. The workshop was an ideal opportunity to broaden my understanding of oral history and enhance my interview technique. The mock interviews were a fantastic way to put into practice the knowledge and skills acquired over the course of the day. In the future, I hope to establish an oral history project in my local community. Conducted in a highly professional manner, I would recommend the workshop to anyone who has an interest in preserving local history.'

That's feedback from Kathryn Millar, a participant in the Capturing Memories workshop conducted by Janis Wilton, Andrew Host and Sandra Blamey on October 10.  Some other comments:

'I gained a greater understanding of how to conduct a recording and the importance of ethics.'

'Great refresher on preparation for interviews.  Handbook and resources notes very useful as reference tool.'

'I gained reassurance that my interviewing processes are on track and also an appreciation of the broader context of oral history.'

This popular practical workshop will be run again in 2016.

Robert Moynhan interviews Kathryn Millar at the workshop. Photo: Sandra Blamey

USA Oral History Association Annual Meeting

by Carol McKirdy | November 27, 2015


Carol McKirdy was at the conference this year, one of three Australians who made it to Tampa, Florida for this major event in the OH calendar.

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America’s major oral history conference (known as the Annual Meeting), organised by the USA Oral History Association, was held October 14-18 in Tampa, Florida at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel. I was one of three Australians to attend and I also gave a paper. After a plane delay which then caused a missed connection, it took me over 30 hours air time to get there but it was worth it. I’d love to go again.

The meeting theme on the power of oral history to uncover links between political and cultural change and to inspire civic engagement interested me greatly because of the projects I do in my own local community. I proposed a paper based on my work as the oral historian for an oral history project with Sudanese refugees and the various sectors in the community who helped Sudanese people in their new Australian environment. It matched the conference theme and was selected. Presenting the project and its important issues of trauma, cultural awareness, and language as it affects an oral history project and involving children among others was an honour in an atmosphere of professional camaraderie.  I loved being with like-minded professionals passionate about oral history and I sensed genuine interest in all the presentations. There was a real sense of aiming for excellence in the field and working with, and learning from, other professionals. The conference tone was academic but not pompous; it was learned but practical as well.

It was also a fun meeting. There was a complimentary Newcomers’ Breakfast which offered a great chance to network with a range of participants including some of America’s most influential people working with oral history. I especially loved the Speed Networking session; I was a bit nervous about it because Speed Dating is definitely ‘after my time’. I had no idea how it worked but it turned out to be a great way to learn about different aspects of oral history and meet and make new oral history friends and colleagues … fast. Being moved on approximately every five minutes was amusing and made us speak concisely. The various performances based on oral history were fabulous. My favourite was a movie called Trash Dance based on oral histories with Austin, Texas garbage collectors. There was a poster displays event with visual representations of projects and book and equipment exhibitors. There were optional tours, special interest group meetings (I attended K-12 Education) and workshops that were an additional cost. I attended Introduction to Video History and learned a lot. Sessions started at 8:30 !! with doors closed a few minutes later. There were 116 sessions to choose from in addition to keynote speakers, several plenary events and the performances. There were many hundreds of attendees and we were very busy, I managed to leave the Marriott Hotel once. The conference was expertly run.

Overall, possibly the nicest part of being in Tampa for the 2015 Annual Meeting was its friendliness. At every session I attended strangers introduced themselves. Being in an exciting setting of learning more about knowing someone’s story and preserving it was great.

I was successful in receiving an international scholarship from the conference organisers and that was a much valued fantastic help because as we all know the Australian dollar isn’t so friendly at the moment for Aussies in the US. International and American scholarship recipients were acknowledged and congratulated at the Newcomers’ breakfast and also online on the US Oral History Association website - a kind and appreciated touch.

A book I wrote and published with US-based Left Coast Press, Practicing Oral History with Immigrant Narrators, was released in October so my publisher organised a launch and book signing at an associated event at the conference – that was very exciting and an added personal bonus of attendance.

Attending the conference was professionally rewarding in so many ways; I added to my skills set for practising oral history, made many new and valuable contacts and I was inspired. If you get the chance to attend, I highly recommend attending the US Oral History Association Annual Meeting. In 2016 their meeting also celebrates 50 years as an organisation. The Meeting will be in Long Beach California from October12-16 at the Renaissance Hotel. Calls for proposals open online in November - you'll find details here.

Family Memories - a seminar with Anna Green

by Scott McKinnon | October 15, 2015


OH NSW's last seminar for 2015 was presented by Victoria University Associate Professor Anna Green. 

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The last OH NSW seminar for the year was held at the Mitchell Library on October 15. Associate Professor Anna Green, Victoria University of Wellington, discussed her recently completed project, Memories within Intergenerational Families. The project explores the importance of family memories to the ways in which the public connects with the past.

Green described the findings, pleasures and challenges of the project, in which she and her colleagues interviewed members of 12 families in the southwest of England. Through separate interviews with family members in differing generations, the researchers explored the stories that were passed down through families and the forms of narrative that provide families with a sense of shared history. 

Although public memorials, heritage sites and other forms of public memory-making have been a significant focus of examination, Green argued that historians have largely ignored the role of family memory in the development of historical consciousness. Her fascinating research encourages us to think of family memories as an important venue for imagining the past.

Audio of the seminar can be heard here.

Listen to two recent OH NSW seminars

by | July 10, 2015


Audio files of our last two events are now available to download.

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Thanks to presenters Dr Doug Boyd (Play, Record, Pause: how technology is changing the practice and purpose of oral history – September 16) and Professor Robert Reynolds, Dr Shirleene Robinson and Dr Scott McKinnon (From the Margins to the Centre: some major LGBT projects - August 29) for permission to publish these here. 

For possible wider usage please Email President of Oral History NSW.


  Dr. Doug Boyd

Play Record Pause: How Technology is Changing the Practice and Purpose of Oral History

Doug Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Centre for Oral History in the University of Kentucky Libraries, will explore innovations to oral history and their impact on both the practice and purpose of oral history. Specifically, Doug will discuss the Nunn Centre's use of OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer), an open source, free digital tool created for enhancing access to online oral histories, and how OHMS has empowered archives all over the world to meet user expectations with regard to improving access to oral history.

As this is a large file it has been necessary to divide Doug's presentation into three parts.
Dr Doug Boyd 16 Sept 2015 Part 1
Dr Doug Boyd 16 Sept 2015 Part 2
Dr Doug Boyd 16 Sept 2015 Part 3  

  From the margins to the centre: some major LGBTI projects

This seminar drew on two large and significant LGBTI oral history projects.

Professor Robert Reynolds and Dr Shirleene Robinson are researchers on the first national Australian lesbian and gay oral history project, which is being conducted by Macquarie University in conjunction with the National Library of Australia. The project has interviewed 60 respondents from five different generations, investigating ways in which the experience of being gay or lesbian has transformed over the course of the last 60 years. Shirleene and Robert reflect on the challenges and rewards of a national Australian lesbian and gay oral history project. 

Dr Shirleene Robinson 29/8/15
Please note that it has not been possible to include audio excerpts used in the recording due to copyright.
Professor Robert Reynolds 29/8/15

Dr Scott McKinnon discusses his experiences using oral history as a research method on several projects related to histories of sexuality, covering both university-based and community history projects. In particular, Scott talks about his work with Pride History Group, a volunteer-run community history organisation that has recorded and archived a substantial collection of oral history interviews with members of Sydney’s LGBTI communities.
Dr Scott McKinnon 29/8/15


2015 Hazel de Berg Award winner is ...

by | July 6, 2015


Tasmanian historian Jill Cassidy was awarded the 2015 Hazel de Berg Award for Excellence in Oral History at the National Oral History Australia Conference  held in Perth, September 9-12.

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 Winner of the 2015 Hazel de Berg Award
for Excellence in Oral History

 Jill Cassidy


Jill Cassidy has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of oral history in Australia for almost 30 years, undertaken both in a professional and voluntary capacity. 

Working at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) in Launceston, Jill conducted oral histories which formed the basis of exhibitions to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988. She later authored a number of publications  including  Launceston Talks: Oral Histories of the Launceston Community. As a result of the project’s success in documenting the history of northern Tasmania, Jill was appointed as the Museum’s first Oral Historian. She went on to initiate, manage and conduct further oral histories, exhibitions, publications and ran engaging and successful public programs. Jill firmly established the Museum’s collection and her commitment to recording and preserving interviews ensured the collection continued to grow and that oral history became an integral part of QVMAG exhibitions. Jill’s contribution here was exceptional. She was also a member of the Editorial Committee for The Companion to Tasmanian History. 

In 1991, soon after being appointed as Oral Historian at QVMAG, Jill initiated the formation of the Tasmanian Branch of the Oral History Association of Australia, now Oral History Tasmania. She has been either branch President or Secretary since its inception, and has edited the newsletter Real to Reel for most of that time. Jill has tirelessly contributed to the promotion of oral history practice in Tasmania. She has conducted annual oral history workshops in Hobart and Launceston, along with others around the state when requested. She has given talks about oral history to many groups from historical associations to school groups and has contributed a number of oral history papers to conferences and seminars. Jill ran a local oral history symposium for Deviot – the community where she lives. She has also played a central role in the national association, as President and as the Convener of two very successful national conferences. She has been a member of the national executive since 1991. 

Jill has played a central and critical role in Tasmanian oral history. She continues to be the heart of Oral History Tasmania and has generously mentored many Tasmanian Oral Historians.     

Photo Credit: Jill Cassidy was presented with her award by Sue Anderson, National President of Oral History Australia, at the national conference in Perth WA Sept 9-12.

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