Discussion About Innovative Oral History Practices

Oral histories have long been a way for archivists, ethnographers, cultural historians, activists, and others to document practices and experiences that are process-oriented, ephemeral, subjugated, or are in some way left to the margins of the textual historical record. Traditionally, the oral historian will conduct the interview with the participant in a familiar place and after the events and experiences to be recorded have occurred, whether these are from the distant or more recent past. The participant recounts memories and stories and the interviewer digs deeper into these memories with further questions.

Both changes in technology and shifts in the concerns of archivists and marginal communities have begun to push this old model into new places. The prevalence of Google docs and Skype have made new kinds of interview structures possible. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring have pushed the necessity of recording oral narratives increasingly closer to the moment of the event itself. I want to hold a discussion on new possibilities for oral histories: what are new ways in which oral histories are being recorded? are new kinds of relationships forming between interviewers and participants?

Personally, I have begun working on a project to document ephemeral artwork by conducting oral history interviews with attendees at exhibitions of performance and process based art. While I am not yet ready to fully present on this project, I would be able to discuss my thoughts behind it and findings so far. Rather than formally presenting on this project, I would like to use this to stage a discussion with other conference goers on the changing landscape of oral histories. I want to hear about others’ experiences with the changing role for oral histories in community archives.


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