Oral History and Public Memories

Oral History and Public Memories

Oral History and Public Memories

Oral History and Public Memories

Synopsis

Oral History and Public Memoriesis the first book to explore the relationship between the well-established practice of oral history and the burgeoning field of memory studies. In the past, oral historians have generally privileged the individual narrator, frequently fetishizing the interview process without fully understanding that interviews are only one form of memory-making. Historians engaged in memory studies, on the other hand, have asked broader questions-about the social and cultural processes at work in remembrance. What distinguishes these essays from much work in oral history is their focus not on the experiences of individual narrators, but on the broader cultural meanings of oral history narratives. What distinguishes them from other work in memory studies is their grounding in real events. Taken together, these contributions explain the processes by which oral histories move beyond interviews with individual people to become articulated memories shared by others.

Excerpt

When the British oral historian Paul Thompson originally suggested that Linda Shopes from the United States and Paula Hamilton from Australia, who did not then know each other, collaborate on a book about oral history, memory, and the public, he set in train a fruitful and apposite partnership between two women across countries, cultures, and institutions. Both of us had been involved for many years in both public history and oral history, community work, and teaching. We were also in a sense, more than oral historians because we had worked in public projects that took us well beyond the archival impulse and engaged us in reflective analysis of oral history's role in the broader community and the more recent scholarship on historical memory. This book represents our individual and shared interests, both enriched by our years of collaboration.

Two observations lie at the core of this book. in the first instance, while there has been extensive scholarship on oral history as a method and practice, too few people take it “out of the house” and past the front door, as Paul Thompson once commented. He was referring to the semiprivatized, marginal nature of the practice and the thousands and thousands of tapes lying unused in drawers and archives—though we note that the people digitizing oral history for the web have taken it “down the street” some way.

Second, we observed that recent scholarship on historical memory in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies has rarely engaged with oral history as a central practice in many societies where memory and history are inextricably entangled. Quite simply, very little published work . . .

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