How the passion for oral history can begin

This is a lovely story about a man named Don Norton who for Christmas of 1964, interviewed his father for two hours recording  the events of his life.  Norton then transcribed the session, laboriously typed it out on a manual typewriter and surprised his father with the gift, which was placed in a large envelope marked, “Do not open until Christmas.” When the family was sitting around the tree that year and his father opened the envelope and saw what the gift was, he wept.  Since then Don has gone on to interview more than 100 veterans in his community in Orem, Utah.  For the fully story, click here.

One day oral history conference in Bangalore

One of oral history’s great practitioners Dr Robert Perks, director and lead curator, National Life Stories, British Library, London, spoke at the recent conference ‘Oral History and the Sense of Legacy’ in Bangalore, describing oral history as “spoken evidence”.  One of the projects discussed at the conference was the gathering of the testimonials of survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy.  For more information click here and here.

USA’s largest homeland disaster during WWII

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office are looking to a July 23 memorial service for the hundreds of servicemen and civilians killed and hurt in this disaster to aid the office’s search for first-hand accounts of the 1944 accident that helped desegregate the U.S. military.  The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) has initiated interviews with surviving witnesses to the explosion of more than 5,000 tons of TNT while mainly African-American sailors loaded munitions in Port Chicago, California.  320 servicemen and civilians died.  For more information about this interesting and little known event, click here.

Capturing oral histories at South Australian agricultural shows

Barossa Valley-based television host Cherie Hausler has been attending South Australian agricultural shows, and discovered not only a feisty spirit of competition but also a window into the culture and community that thrives in regional SA. Hausler has developed a television show that involves travelling around to the various agricultural shows in SA, competing, and cooking with some of the characters she meets along the way.  She is trying to capture the rich oral history, the expertise and high standards agricultural shows foster.  For full story click here.

South African Oral History Conference

The 8th National Oral History Conference will be held from 11 to 14 October 2011 in North West Province, South Africa.  The conference theme is “Past Distortions, Present Realities, (Re)Construction(s) and (Re)Configuration(s) of Oral History”.  Click here and then click on the conference theme on left side of page for more information.


School students as interviewers

Here are two examples of school students interviewing local residents as part of their school curriculum.  The first is American Studies Oral History Project 2011.  Some of the interviews are with war veterans, even recent veterans from current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The second is a story about students in the American town of Hannibal who have funds from their town council to make a documentary film about the residents of their town – click here.  We could do projects like this here and it would be good to find a way to encourage schools to undertake similar projects.

Introducing our President – Ariella Van Luyn

Hi from Ariella Van Luyn, the Queensland branch president:

Dear members,
At the AGM in November 2010, I was voted President, taking the reigns (or rather the microphone, quite literally) from the lovely Lena Volkova. I’m very pleased to be in this position and look forward to working with you all.
I’ve been a member of the Association for three years. I joined when I began my PhD investigating the fictionalising of oral history. I first discovered the thrill of hearing someone telling their life story during a vacation research program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), when I interviewed four Sisters of Mercy at the Mater Hospital. The compelling qualities of their stories struck me, as an emerging writer, as something more powerful than anything I could ever invent.
The next year I began my honours thesis, hungry to hear more stories and hoping to draw on my own skills as a fiction writer to make oral history transcripts more accessible. I interviewed my Grandma, Beth, who as a child had contracted poliomyelitis while swimming in a pool in Northern Queensland. Beth woke up one morning and called out, ‘Mummy, I can’t move my leg.’ Her Mother threatened to give her a dose of cod’s liver oil, but it soon became clear that no amount of this cure-all was going to fix the problem; Beth’s left leg was paralysed. She was taken from her home, quarantined at the Mater and then placed in Montrose Home in Corinda, an institution for ‘crippled children,’ as one newspaper of the day called it.
I interviewed Beth about her experiences at Montrose, and then ‘fictionalised’ the transcripts, inventing scenes, details, characters and themes, and altering certain aspects of the story to create a more unified narrative. I paid careful attention to Beth’s storytelling strategies and vocabulary, mimicking her voice in the work. I produced a 10 000 word novella and accompanying exegesis, documenting the theoretical aspects of my projects. At the end of the year, I felt like I’d only scratched the surface of oral history methodology and theory and embarked on a PhD in 2009.
My practice led PhD consists of a novel, based on ten oral history interviews I’ve conducted with Brisbane residents about their memories of the place, and an exegesis. When I say I write fiction, I am sometimes hear comments like, ‘But history is about facts. You can’t make things up.’ I respond simply, ‘I’m not writing history.’ However, historical elements are important in my process; I want my fiction to feel authentic, filled with details about the past often only found in oral sources. My work would never replace traditional historical accounts, but instead explores the past through imagination. That is why, for me, it is very important to ensure that, in the process of fictionalising, the original oral histories on which I draw are preserved and made accessible. For example, when my short story, based on an oral history was published this year in One Book Many Brisbanes 5, I published the transcript on my blog (
Throughout the last two years, I’ve also worked with Associate Professor Helen Klaebe on The Business Leaders Hall of Fame, and other oral history and digital storytelling projects.
I attended the OHAA Conference in Launceston in late 2009 (thanks to a generous grant from the Queensland branch); The Talk about Town conference in 2009; the Australian Historical Association conference at the Sunshine Coast in early 2009; The International Auto/Biography Association Conference in Brighton and the International Oral History Association conference in Prague in mid 2010. These conferences have given me a stronger grasp of the state of the field, which I bring to the role of president.
My article, ‘Fictionalising Oral History: Narrative Analysis, Voice and Identity,’ was peer reviewed and published in the OHAA journal in November this year. I have since taken up the role of chair on the journal’s editorial board.
During my presidency, I want to ensure that oral histories are collected and (re)presented according to the best set of standards available, and in an ethical and responsible manner. I see the Association continuing to work with the State Library of Queensland to ensure that this is the case.
I have also put together an online set of resources for those working with oral histories via the online social networking site, Delicious ( The login details are available in the members’ only section of our website ( or you can contact me for assistance. I would love to add your projects to this our site so other members can read what you’re doing. If you have online details of your project, please send me the links ( and I’ll put it up for you.
I’m also dedicated to supporting the running of a series of high quality workshops on conducting an oral history project, which will run throughout the year. The Queensland branch has a truly amazing group of people on the committee, dedicated to ensuring that these workshops—and indeed, every one of the branches’ activities—run smoothly: Lena Volkova, Suzanne Mulligan, Kate Roberts, Karen Barrett, Helen Klaebe, Jen Barrkman, Sue Pechey, Marsali Mackinnon, Lesley Jenkins, Anne Monsour as well as many other enthusiastic members who have offered their invaluable help.  I would like to thank all these people for their truly amazing efforts.  
I welcome any members to join our committee meetings at any time. I value all our members’ thoughts on any aspect of the Association’s work. Details of meetings and our other activities are posted on the website and also on our Facebook account.
I’m keen to hear about your projects; the difficulties you’ve encountered; the successes you’ve enjoyed; and the journey you’ve had along the way. I’m always ready to have a chat, point you in the direction of resources and offer advice based on my own experiences. I’d also like to know if you have any suggestions or thoughts about how you would like to see the Association run. Please feel free to contact me:
I wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Photo caption: Ariella in Prague attending the International Oral History Association Conference, July 2010.