Histories of Oral Historians

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The Oral History Centre presents a series of three interviews conducted with leading oral historians Ronald Grele, Alessandro Portelli, and Linda Shopes, renowned for their contributions to the field of oral history.   Rather than a professional and polished lecture on oral history, these interviews provide a candid glimpse of each oral historian as they share personal experiences and best practices in oral history, detailing some of their own memorable interviews and the techniques that they employ.  They talk about how they became and remained oral historians, how oral history became their passion and career, and their involvement in and contributions to the field over the course of their careers. 


The interviews were conducted by OHC researcher Allison Penner while attending the Columbia Center for Oral History 2012 Summer Institute at Columbia University, New York, New York (4-15 June 2012).  The 2012 Summer Institute, “What Is Remembered: Life Story Approaches in Human Rights Contexts,” saw eighteen fellows from twelve countries (including Afghanistan, Nepal, Columbia, Germany, Turkey, and Iraq, among others) gather to discuss the uses of oral history in conflict zones, prisons, war-affected communities and those impacted by economic, racial, or ecological difficulties, as well as the dissemination of such oral history projects and the role of new and social media on oral history.  Fellows presented on a diverse range of themes with regard to their own personal human rights work and the intersections of such work with oral history.  Renowned oral historians led workshops on a variety of topics according to their areas of expertise.  


The interviews Allison Penner conducted with Ron Grele, Alessandro Portelli, and Linda Shopes were not planned in advance; rather, Penner approached the narrators at the Summer Institute and asked if they would be willing to participate in brief interviews about their own work and experiences in the field of oral history.  As such, they represent fairly casual, short, and topical interviews.  Within these interviews with, several references are made to discussions that took place within these workshops.  


Links to related materials and interviews with oral historians:


Oral History Form (Volume 28) 2008

Oral History as the History of Experience (Erfahrungsgeschichte) - An Interview with Alexander von Plato