(Quote)...My assignment is basically a small research project. I have to search for an oral history interview on a topic I am interested in (this will probably be holocaust related) and analyse the interview with the question in mind ‘what does this tell us about history that might not be covered by other historical sources?' At the same time I have to take the context (situation, time, interviewer, questions, etc) into consideration as well as methodological questions covered in the lectures and the readings of the first half of the semester.

These have been a general look at memory systems (semantic, episodic, sensory, perceptual and above all autobiographical) and the concept of memory failure as well as how memories are retrieved and the effect on the original memory of retrieval and the concept of state dependent retrieval. Remembering by Bartlett seems to be the lecturers bible on this although many other authors are cited. We will be moving on to consider oral history in general and how groups remember, drawing on the work of Maurice Halbwachs for example. ...(Quote)

BBR - I've done no tertiary-level studies in this field. Anecdotally, however, I can offer my opinion that societies with strong oral history traditions are much more likely to avoid distortion of that history. I recently spent some time in the Solomon Islands, where I found that stories of dark deeds in some distant village were completely without exaggeration or embellishment. When investigators travelled to the settlements concerned, they would find evidence that, for instance, eleven people had, as reported, died in inter-tribal fighting - not ten, not twelve, but exactly eleven. This despite the story having been related scores of times as it travelled across the island. Also, our hugely literate society is vastly more prone to revisionism, PC being what it is. In Japan, young adults are only now hearing the unexpurgated version of their grandparents' role in WWII. Examples abound, but the basic message remains: the more sophisticated and literate the society, the more distorted their record of history is likely to become over time. (The Bolshevikii were paranoid about it - but their enforcement of PC practice was much more direct than ours is ever likely to be.) I doubt you'll find anything new in the foregoing, but I wish you the best of luck with your assignment.

If t is holocaust related checkout the Imperial War Museum in London. They have recorded interviews there from survivors alongside the exhibits. Most of these people are now dead of age so there is no way of verifying it but their descriptions of the artifacts are almost exact.
"Unwitting testimony" (cf Arthur Marwick, "The Nature of History", 2nd ed 1981/ paperback - ISBN 0 333 32372 6, p 144): crucial need to consider what is implicit as well as explicit; what's left unsaid is often very significant! What are the underlying assumptions, values, attitudes...? Standard stuff re source evaluation, but particularly important when using oral sources, and it's amazing how often it's overlooked!

Paul Thompson, "The Voice of the Past: Oral History", Oxford Univ Press, 3rd ed 2000 - excellent/ very clear.

George MacDonald Fraser has some interesting things to say on memory etc in the intro of "Quartered Safe Out Here", 1992 (ISBN 0 00 272687 4).

see - if you haven't already! -


Best wishes,


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