Oral History in Brazil: Development and Challenges

By Meihy, Jose Carlos Sebe Bom | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Oral History in Brazil: Development and Challenges

Meihy, Jose Carlos Sebe Bom, The Oral History Review

In the case of Brazil, as in Latin America in general--or at least in those countries which only recently lived through the syndrome of military dictatorships--the emergence of oral history was directly tied to the process of re-democratization. It established a natural link between the advent of oral history and the political issues arising from democratic acceptance. This fact makes the role of oral history in Latin America different from that in Europe or North America. For this purpose, Brazil is an eloquent example.(1)

Identification of themes immediately leads to the observation that Latin American oral history requires solutions and approaches which are notably different from foreign ones. Reflecting exclusively in terms of Brazil, one questions the virtues of the importation of theoretical models and the insistence that the same thematic matrixes should prevail there and elsewhere.(2) Is our oral history simply an echo of a "First World" oral history? Do we not have specific responsibilities and commitments to our own social environment? Even more pertinently: are the same analytical criteria used to study "their" immigration valid for us studying "ours"? Can the experience of black slavery in Latin America be filtered according to "their" criteria? How should oral historians proceed, and which models should they use, when encountering native Indian societies? What have "they" to teach us about immigration, native Indians, miscegenation, or the experiences of black slaves and abandoned children? In regards to themes relating to popular culture, could they be addressed in one or another culture according to the same criteria? In short, could the same European and North American models have any use for "us"? Should we create our own analytical criteria? Would that be possible?

We evidently insist on the relevance of the exchange of academic experiences, for it would be equally unwise to isolate our practices of oral history as if we had absolutely nothing in common with that of "others." Clearly intellectual dialogue is sacred and should have no frontiers, but this should not signify abandoning the political commitment that is an echo of the Latin American voice in oral history.

Given the complexity and political dependence of Latin America, the development of its oral history presents circumstances which distinguish it positively. Our colonialist academic experience, so versed in "their" texts, has paradoxically the very conditions to create a desirable synthesis, one which in most cases cannot be found in centers other than ours. In this sense, the oral history practiced in Brazil, as well as in Latin America, is the result of combined readings--characterizing it thus with a sophisticated theoretical grounding and a thematic pertinence to unequivocal political and local liens. The synthesis of European, North American and Latin American texts, when duly filtered, permits interesting reflections for reversing imported models. The process of "devouring," used metaphorically and borrowed from Brazilian literature, which expresses itself through "anthropophagy," suggests that, read with criteria, imported texts can be used as a stepping-stone to reflect on the good uses of Latin American oral history.(3) At the same time, we advocate the creation of new concepts and mechanisms of study.

Modern Brazilian oral history defined itself as of 1979, flowering mainly after 1983 in the process of political re-democratization of the country. Although there were prior scattered efforts in the seventies, oral history only developed as a consulted and vigorous practice after a process of maturing which brought different tendencies together and provided the collective spaces necessary for the exchange of opinions.

The first attempt, however, occurred in 1973, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Fundacao Getulio Vargas do Rio de Janeiro (CPDOC/FGV). On this occasion, academics concerned with documentation issues in the social sciences met in Rio de Janeiro.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Oral History in Brazil: Development and Challenges


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?