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Report on Oral History Australia Conference 2017

The recent Oral History Australia Conference 2017 had much of interest for public library staff. Dr Indira Chowdhury from the Centre for Public History,  Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, India, was one of the keynote speakers for the conference, and focused on oral history of Partition.  Dr Chowdhury included work by Nina Sabani exploring contentious past and how this is remembered. This video by Nina Sabani demonstrates a memory described in an oral history recording.


The book A Life Long Ago by Sunanda Sikdar  was used as an example for work in areas of memory as was the song Jessore Road by Moushumi Bhowmik.

The other keynote speaker Dr Dalia Leinarte from Vilnius University, and chair of UN (CEDAW) gave a powerful description of impact of silent pauses in oral history interviews, as people search for words. Her research into war crimes highlights the value and meaning of pauses in oral history, which need to be listened to, and not edited out.

I will only describe some of the sessions I attended, as there were too many excellent sessions to do them justice. It was interesting hearing about the recordings done by Jack Delaney  recently digitised at the University of Newcastle and available via their Living histories and Voices of the Hunter site.   

The Australian Generations Oral History project shows at a national level, what it would be interesting to see at a local level with a deliberative program of including people of different ages, experiences and backgrounds in the oral history recordings. The interviews can be listened to online from the National Library of Australia and are also able to be listened to via an ebook (which links to the audio). Some of the recordings have been repurposed as snippets for an exhibition with each of these stories linking back to the complete interview.  This shows what can be possible, as well as demonstrating the importance of digital preservation.

Work of the Bankstown Arts Centre highlighted a range of oral history projects including Intergenerate: creative aging and Mapping frictions. One of the purposes of this recording is connecting the community.  While this was an impressive program it was not clear that the recordings were being managed long term.  The Bankstown Arts Centre was not in partnership with the library.

National Library of Australia has useful citation option for within oral history interviews. The importance of bilingual recording of oral history was highlighted as well as the value of having a bilingual interviewer for a bilingual interviewee.

You can find out more about the conference by looking at the OHAC2017 tweets. Many of the presentations will be written up as papers, and published over the next few months.

Ellen Forsyth