Interactive Oral History Interviewing

By Eva M. McMahan; Kim Lacy Rogers | Go to book overview

Afterword to Chapter 1

Ronald J. Grele

Columbia University

This chapter was originally prepared in the early winter of 1990. Rereading it now in 1994 is disturbing because, like most people, I have worked and reworked these ideas over the intervening period. There is little to do about what I now see as major problems in the presentation, but I would like to point out two areas of the chapter that now seem problematic.

First, the transition from the extended discussion of the problems of fieldwork to the very brief outline of recent work in oral history and its meaning for that debate now seems to be too brief and facile. The connective thread I would now use would be derived from the work of Bernstein ( 1988) and Carr ( 1986), especially Bernstein's discussion of a shared "universe of discourse and concern" (p. 176) and Carr's argument for the origins of narrativity in experience itself. That discussion is outlined in greater detail in a forthcoming article.

Second, the works in oral history cited do not close the argument. They simply point to a direction in our discourse about ourselves as historians. Most bothersome to me now is the assumed nature of the value of rational dialogue. Although this may be a pragmatic scientific principle, it is often not a cultural one. I can conceive of many instances where such a stance would act against the deepest held values of both historians and citizens.

Two examples will suffice. In gathering the stories of political prisoners and their captors do we serve history, the past, or the future best by granting a democratic difference and equality to both sides? Isn't it an easy liberalism that condemns the filmmakers of Shaoh for tricking former Nazi jailers into testifying?

-163-

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