Oralhistory is often referred to as a methodology, not a theory. But since the 1980s oral historians have developed a number of interpretive approaches, drawing upon contemporary theories and concepts from a broad range of cognate subjects. These theories and concepts have coalesced into a widely shared understanding that remembering contains both objective and subjective evidence about the past, and that the analysis of oralhistory interviews requires a multifaceted approach. In this chapter we will briefly outline current understandings about the nature of
Spatial and architectural memory
in oralhistories of working life
What happens if we invert the cliche ‘if walls could talk?’ and explore
what former factory workers might say about those walls? At first this
may sound absurd, but in a broad sense this chapter demonstrates this
very approach, for it is here that we turn our attention to the richness
of content contained within workers’ memories of the buildings in which
While the disciplines of oralhistory, design history and architectural history are all beginning to engage with
Every piece of historical writing has a theoretical basis on which evidence is selected, filtered, and understood. This book explores the theoretical perspectives and debates that are generally acknowledged to have been the most influential within the university-led practice of history over the past century and a half. It advises readers to bear in mind the following four interlinked themes: context, temporal framework, causation or drivers of change, and subjectivities. The book outlines the principles of empiricism, the founding epistemology of the professional discipline, and explores the ways in which historians have challenged and modified this theory of knowledge over the past century and a half. It then focuses upon three important dimensions of historical materialism in the work of Marxist historians: the dialectical model at the basis of Marx's grand narrative of human history; the adaptations of Marxist theory in Latin America; and the enduring question of class consciousness. The use of psychoanalysis in history, the works of Annales historians and historical sociology is discussed next. The book also examines the influence of two specific approaches that were to be fertile ground for historians: everyday life and symbolic anthropology, and ethnohistory. The roles of narrative, gender history, radical feminism, poststructuralism and postcolonial history are also discussed. Finally, the book outlines the understandings about the nature of memory and remembering, and looks at key developments in the analysis and interpretation of oral histories and oral traditions.
Colonialism, grave robbery and intellectual history
Larissa Förster, Dag Henrichsen, Holger Stoecker and Hans Axasi╪Eichab
In 1885, the Berlin pathologist Rudolf Virchow presented three human skeletons
from the colony of German South West Africa to the Berlin Society for
Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. The remains had been looted from a grave
by a young German scientist, Waldemar Belck, who was a member of the second
Lüderitz expedition and took part in the occupation of colonial
territory. In an attempt to re-individualise and re-humanise these human
remains, which were anonymised in the course of their appropriation by Western
science, the authors consult not only the colonial archive, but also
contemporary oral history in Namibia. This allows for a detailed reconstruction
of the social and political contexts of the deaths of the three men, named
Jacobus Hendrick, Jacobus !Garisib and Oantab, and of Belck’s grave
robbery, for an analysis of how the remains were turned into scientific objects
by German science and institutions, as well as for an establishment of
topographical and genealogical links with the Namibian present. Based on these
findings, claims for the restitution of African human remains from German
institutions cannot any longer be regarded as a contemporary phenomenon only but
must be understood as part of an African tradition of resistance against Western
colonial and scientific practices.
The visual at work:
oralhistory and institutional photographs
All these pictures would have been posed for. Ha! You know, in reality, it
wasn’t as orderly as that!1
– Former NSW Government Printer Don West
Oralhistory can serve a vital role when interweaving labour history with
design and material culture. The way that printers speak, for example,
is often rich in visual and material detail and peppered with industry
slang. In the interviews undertaken for Hot Metal, the conversations
revealed that retired printers typically retain an exceptionally thorough
With the increasing digitisation of almost every facet of human endeavour, concerns persist about ‘deskilling’ and precarious employment. The publishing industry has turned its energy to online and electronic media, and jobs continue to disappear from printing, publishing and journalism. The replacement of human labour with computerised technologies is not merely a contemporary issue; it has an established history dating from the mid-twentieth century. What is often missing from this record is an understanding of how the world of work is tightly interwoven with the tangible and affective worlds of material culture and design, even in ‘clean’ computerised environments. Workplace culture is not only made up of socio-political relationships and dynamics. It is also bound up with a world of things, with and through which the social and gendered processes of workplace life are enacted and experienced. Understanding how we interact with and interpret design is crucial for appreciating the complexities of the labour experience, particularly at times of technological disruption. Hot Metal reveals integral labour-design relationships through an examination of three decades in the printing industry, between the 1960s and 1980s. This was the period when hot-metal typesetting and letterpress was in decline; the early years of the ‘digital switch’. Using oral histories from an intriguing case-study – a doggedly traditional Government Printing Office in Australia – this book provides an evocative rendering of design culture and embodied practice in a context that was, like many workplaces, not quite ‘up-to-date’ with technology. Hot Metal is also history of how digital technologies ruptured and transformed working life in manufacturing. Rather than focusing solely on ‘official’ labour, this book will introduce the reader to workers’ clandestine creative practices; the making of things ‘on the side’.
Our account of lesbianism in post-war Britain ends in 1971. However, the
subsequent history of the women we have encountered could in many
ways be said to bring us back to where we started in the archives. This
story would therefore not be complete if we failed to consider the history
of the Hall Carpenter OralHistory Archive itself, and its role in shaping
the ways in which post-war lesbian history can be imagined.
In the decade after 1971, new social and political conceptualisations of
lesbianism proliferated. Following the demise of Arena Three, a
will sketch out
a number of methodological perspectives on memory, oralhistory, children in history and trauma, in order that those ‘handprints’ are better
identified in what follows.
History or memory?
Memory and history can be uncomfortable bedfellows. As Henri
Girardon’s comments suggest, a cloud of suspicion hangs over memories of wartime France in particular. While Pierre Nora’s Les Lieux de
mémoire is accepted as a seminal work in memory studies, Nancy Wood
has pointed out that in France it created a dominant idea of performative, national memory that is
moving stories from which I
have learned so much.
At the heart of this book are oralhistories: interviews, mostly recorded,
about personal memories of growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s
as a mixed-race child in what was then a very white Britain. The interviews are combined with analysis of official records of central and
local government and various organisations, reports from children’s
homes, newspapers (British and American), letters and memoirs.
Oralhistory is ‘the study and investigation of the past by means of
personal recollections, memories
This book demonstrates a fruitful cross-fertilisation of ideas between British queer history and art history. It engages with self-identified lesbians and with another highly important source for queer history: oral history. The book highlights the international dimension of what to date has been told as a classic British tale of homosexual law reform and also illuminates the choices made and constraints imposed at the national level. It embarks on a queer critical history, arguing for the centrality, in John Everett Millais's life-writing, of the strange-to-us category of unconventionality. The book aims to expose the queer implications of celebrity gossip writing. It offers a historical analysis of the link between homosexual men and gossip by examining the origins of the gossip column in the British tabloid press in the three decades after 1910. The book provides an overview of the emergence and consolidation of a number of new discourses of homosexuality as a social practice in postwar Britain. It explores a British variant on homophile internationalism before and immediately after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act by mapping Grey's cross-border connections while noting strain against transnational solidarity. The book focuses on evidence collected by the 1977 Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship to illustrate how gay men conceptualised the place of pornography in their lives and its role in the broader struggle for the freedom.