Seminář Training in Oral History

  • 14. září 2022
    8:30 – 16:30
  • Posluchárna B2.34

In October 2021, I gave a talk at Masaryk University on the Burnett Research Group’s recently completed project: an oral history of Czech physicists who participated in the transition from totalitarianism to a democratic society. Although these interviews were an important contribution to the history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, they were all conducted in English. The purpose of this is to facilitate the production of oral histories by Czechs in the Czech language, to expose Czech historians and students to oral history techniques, including theory, ethical issues, videography, audio recording, interview techniques and trauma narratives, project conceptualization and organization, archiving, and multimedia interpretive work, such as podcasts and documentaries. The training and materials will be in English, but the goal is to encourage the production of oral histories in Czech.
There is a second motivation for this project, which is inspired by the story of the Placzek family. Tony Placzek is the only surviving member of the prominent Placzek family of Brno. His uncle George, a famous physicist, was in anguish after his friends and colleagues in Kharkov were imprisoned by Stalin, in part because of their ties to the well-traveled Placzek. With over 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine now living in Brno and Prague, the city of Kharkiv liberated for the moment from Russian guns, the importance of recording individual stories to document the trauma of violence and the dignity of survival and resilience is all too clear.
Therefore, the goal of this training is to further prepare Czechs to record the current moment for posterity, in addition to helping them to recognize and document the challenges faced by Czechs under totalitarianism.
Paul Burnett is a historian of science and interim director of the Oral History Center. He joined OHC in 2013 from the Science and Technology Studies Programme at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, where he was an Assistant Professor. Before that, Paul spent a year in Philadelphia researching and producing museum exhibits for the American Philosophical Society. He completed his PhD at the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, where he developed his research on the politics of expertise—how scientists and experts of all kinds establish their credibility, and how people choose between different kinds of expertise to try to solve complex social, political, scientific, and technical problems. He is currently writing a book on agricultural economics and the politics of modern agriculture.

  • 8:30-9:00 am Introductions and objectives for the day
  • 9:00 – 10:00 am The nature of oral history. This introduction distinguishes the field and practice of oral history from other types of interviewing, historical research, and archiving. We will discuss concepts of the self, shared authority and intersubjectivity.
  • 10 am – 10:10 am Short break
  • 10:10 – 11:30 am Managing an oral history project. This session breaks down the complete workflow of an oral history project from start to finish.
  • 11:30 am – 12:15 pm Trust and oral history. Introduction to the interview process, informed
    consent, and legal and ethical concerns with oral history.
  • 12:15 – 1:15 pm Lunch
  • 1:15 – 1:45 The interview. Discussion of interview techniques, challenges, and the literature on trauma-informed narrative.
  • 1:45 – 2:45 Recording oral history – This session gives a broad overview of the principles involved in recording both audio and video. Attendees who register in advance will be asked to watch a one-hour recording before the session if possible.
  • 2:45-3:00 Break
  • 3:00-3:45 Oral history interpretation, public history, and archiving. What do you do once you have your recordings? Introduction to the multimedia public history universe, with examples.
  • 3:45 – 4:30 Oral history, trauma, and healing. This will be a more open conversation among historians about the risks and promise of oral history: oral history in wartime, oral history and vulnerable or marginalized populations. As oral history practice becomes more accessible and ubiquitous, how do narrators and historians navigate issues of agency, safety, control, and power?

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