PAPER SESSION 4 - THURSDAY 26/8, 5–7pm (UTC +8)
P4.1 – Margins in the Spotlight
Anna Fernandez (Singapore) The Value of Marginalised Voices in Oral History
The value behind oral history accounts goes far beyond its significance for preservation and commemorative purposes. Increasingly, as oral history becomes more prominently considered as an academic discipline, its ability to capture potentially latent or often undisclosed nuances of the historical record through the collection of once-silenced or marginalised voices has been brought to the forefront.
Delving beyond the veneer of historical narratives that have become common knowledge and putting the spotlight instead on first-person eyewitness accounts which may have been previously silenced offers unfiltered experiences to see the light of day and provide for a more holistic interpretation and understanding of events, experiences, decisions and actions.
Apart from shining the light on unheard voices for the benefit of ideal representation, oral history also empowers marginalised individuals, giving them a sense of ownership of their life experiences, some of which invalidated or even removed in their entirety in previous historical records.
Furthermore, the collection of alternative oral histories, or those of oppressed and suppressed communities, will eventually serve the function of documenting the progress and change of mindsets, societal norms, policies and ways of life. By realising how the past, present and future interrelate, one is presented with a view of society in its totality.
Using specific oral history projects and examples from around the world, this paper will discuss the abovementioned means in which the value of oral history serves to provide for a more democratic record of the past.
Anna Fernandez is an Oral History Specialist at the National Archives of Singapore, where she focuses on editing, content curation and multimedia marketing. She has been a lifestyle writer for the past 5 years, covering topics spanning travel and F&B to politics, finance and education.
Keywords: first-person eyewitness accounts; historical narratives; marginalised communities; oral history; unheard voices
Monica Mereu (Italy) Giving Voice to the Others: the Iranian Jewish Community of Tehran from an Inside Female Perspective
The aim of this paper is to show the role of oral history applied to my specific PhD research project, which intends to reconstruct the history of the female component of the Jewish community of Tehran that used to live in Oudlājān, the Jewish quarter of the Iranian capital, and then moved out during the 1950s. The first sources of this research are autobiographical interviews. All the research is, indeed, based on a collection of stories and memories composed through different interviews with women who lived in the Oudlājān neighbourhood or have memories of their families living there during the first half of the twentieth century. During the interviews, testimonies of some men who have emotionally talked about their mothers, grandmothers and their life in the quarter were also collected.
Oral history is essential above all to bridge the gap of the traditional historiography on the analysis of the reality of the Jewish community in the complexity of Iran's history, and with regard to its social and cultural developments. It is also a valid alternative to traditional history to recount the experience of those who are not, by tradition, central characters of the Iranian historical memory, among which women and minorities stand out, especially in the contemporary common narrative about Iran. Indubitably, this method, used to explore the link between individual lives and wider public events, is fundamental when dealing with minorities, since the question of identity and the issues of a cross-cultural perspective are even more complex. The use of oral history, in my project, leads also to a re-evaluation of the female role in the Jewish-Iranian cultural context: women becoming narrators are able to remember, evaluate and change the traditional male perspective. Thanks to this methodology, which is accomplished to stimulate also a self-reflective approach, Iranian Jewish women are capable of choosing and freely expressing their experiences, after a long history of silence. In my project, I have selected families with different cultural, family and economic backgrounds. I have given voice to those people who keep memories of the changes that occurred in Oudlājān through different visions and perspectives, given their ability to provide us with an intense and multiform insight of their life in and outside the quarter.
Monica Mereu is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cagliari, undertaking a doctoral program specializing in Persian Studies. In 2018, after numerous international university experiences, she received her master’s degree in History and Society magna cum laude. During this time, she studied Persian Language at University of Cagliari. For a semester she studied history and Persian language at the University of Tehran.
Keywords: gender; identity; Iran; Iranian revolution; minorities; women
Leena Sharma (India) Kinnars and Kothis: Workplace Ruckus amongst ‘Trans’ Gendered Community in Rajasthan
Case Studies investigating various personal narratives of Kinnars (eunuchs/also called Hijra) associated /de-associated with Hijra Gharanas bring to light that these Gharanas since ages have had been impacted on by the socio-political scenario of Rajasthan State. The occupational identity of Hijras is associated here with ‘Bazaar-Basti Maangna’ (asking alms from the market and township to survive) in areas that were bestowed upon them by the kings, prior to dissolution of their rule. The interface between history, memory and identity of Kinnar community is thus being manifested in their working lives. Kothis (transsexuals), Bhaand-Behrupiyas (transvestites) or other Kinnars, who indulge in collecting alms from the self-same areas assigned to a particular Gharana, thus create ruckus amongst the society, repeatedly hindering the workplace solidarity amongst the ‘Trans’ gender community of which Kinnar (Hijra), Kothi and transvestite men are all a part. The ‘relationship status’ between various groups of ‘Trans’ gendered individuals, based on the mode of earning has been studied in the paper through working in the field with these people.
The paper, through the personal narratives of arising conflict amongst the transgender community, examines how working lives and experience of work has changed. The study is based on personal narratives from Kinnars (associated/de-associated with Gharanas) and with uneducated transvestite men who cross dress to earn in earning areas assigned to the Gharanas; bringing to light the urgency of settling these cases legally as governing bodies settles in with by-way regulations in order to set peace amongst the Transgender community of Rajasthan.
Leena Sharma is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, School for Language, Literature and Comparative Studies, Central University of Gujarat.
Keywords: conflict; gender; hijra; identity; oral personal narratives; occupational identity; transgender
Kogielam Keerthi Archary (South Africa) A South African Oral-Literate Perspective: Exploring Oral History, COVID-19, and Community Culture focusing on the Descendants of Indian Indentured Labourers
During the period 1860 (commencement) to 1911 (discontinuation), under the political system of indenture, over 152 000 Indian nationals arrived in the Colony of Natal, South Africa. They had the opportunity to return to India after the initial period of indenture, however, many chose to remain behind. Preservation and transmission of aspects of their heritage culture has in the main taken place through oral history. During the time of Covid-19, Indians in South Africa have explored the possibility of using aspects of their heritage in the fight against the global pandemic. However, it must be clearly articulated that complementary, alternative and integrative medicine were secondary to conventional medication in the treatment of Covid-19. Conventional medication was the first port of call to regain health once the virus was detected. This being stipulated, Indians in South Africa, however, did engage aspects of culture and heritage which was transported to South Africa 160 years ago. This article adds to the body of South African Indian history that already exists and partially satisfies the prevalent gaps. A dual research methodology approach - the qualitative method and the case study method – was used. In this article, the qualitative research methodology focussed on the oral history interview where the respondent - an oral-literate organic intellectual - shared both, his reflective memories and current experiences considering the pandemic. The case study methodology was chosen as it generates a greater understanding of aspects of cultural issues and describes a specific community culture. In this instance, the focus is the Indian community who experience the harmony - disharmony overlap, yet succeed in bringing together many voices and simultaneously ensuring harmony as a value-add of the community is well placed during a time of global disharmony.
Dr Kogielam Archary commenced her teaching career in 1988 and has since progressed to higher education and research. Her academic interests include the South African Indian community. Her Master’s degree was in Orality-Literacy Studies (1992). She holds the portfolio of International and Partnerships of the Oral History Association of South Africa.
Keywords: community; COVID-19; culture; South African Indian
David Beorlegui (Spain) Investigación Colaborativa y Desarrollo Comunitario: El projecto Memorias del Futuro-Voces de Portobelo [Collaborative Research and Community Development: the project Memorias del Futuro-Voces de Portobelo] [in Spanish]
El objetivo de esta comunicación es abordar la construcción de un Archivo Digital de Memoria de Afrodescendientes en Portobelo, Panamá. El archivo forma parte de un proyecto más amplio denominado “Memorias del Futuro: Voces de Portobelo”, que tiene como principales objetivos el reconocimiento, empoderamiento y visibilidad de las personas afropanameñas y la inclusión de su experiencia histórica en el currículo escolar del país. El texto se detiene a analizar los principales hitos del proyecto y el modo de afrontar las tensiones inherentes a la realización de entrevistas, poniendo un énfasis especial en la buena práctica de la historia oral y los aprendizajes que se derivan de ella.
The aim of this paper is to address the construction of a Digital Archive of Memory of People of African Descent in Portobelo, Panama. The archive is part of a larger project called “Memorias del Futuro.: Voces de Portobelo”, whose main objectives are the recognition, empowerment and visibility of Afro-Panamenian people and the inclusion of their historical experience in the country's school curriculum. The paper stops to analyze the main milestones of the project and how to deal with the tensions inherent in conducting interviews, placing special emphasis on the good practice of oral history and the lessons learned from it.
David Beorlegui is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of the Basque Country. He teaches oral history at postgraduate and graduate level. He has published three books and different articles in scientific journals. At the moment, he is the representative of the European Region in IOHA Council and also the co-editor of the bilingual electronic journal Words and Silences-Palabras y Silencios.
Keywords: Afro-Panamenian; archive; interview