23 August 2021 (UTC +8)
Memory and Remembering in the Digital Age by Kwa Chong Guan
The foundation of any oral history interview is what the interviewee can recall of his or her memories and readiness to share and reflect on them. An earlier generation of interviewees would have referred to diaries or photographs and other textual or visual evidences to refresh their memories prior to the interview. But today, the internet and social media shape the oral narratives of those growing up in the digital age. Online social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are means of memory creation that involve the process and speed of acquiring, storing and retrieving information for future use. In the near future, it is likely the narrator may rely on Facebook as a source to recollect what he remembers about himself by browsing through the photographs and stories that he has posted. There lies the question how is Facebook or Twitter memory a reliable source of information in helping us understand the historical past? This presentation will examine the nature of how memories are encoded on the social online platform. First, to what exent does our online persona represent who we are as a person? Second, how does one choose to remember about himself? Does the number of likes he has elicited determine what he wants to remember about himself? Do we discard or even dispose a memory that has harnessed many dislikes? Third, how does digital technology affect the speed in the formation of our memories? Postings on social media form instant memory, leaving little room for reflection. Last, to whom are we penning down our digital memory and for what purpose? Who were our digital audience then and for whom are we retrieving our stored information now? Hence, the challenge for the oral historian in examining the reliability of the formation of memories is even greater today, in the digital age as evidence of the history past.
About the Speaker:
Kwa Chong Guan is Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is also an Honarary Adjunct Associate Professor of the History Department at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore. With a strong and keen interest in Southeast Asia studies, he works on the intersections of history, security studies and international relations of Southeast Asia. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Archaelogical Unit of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
He started his career working on policy analysis in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then the Ministry of Defence before being assigned to reorganize the Oral History Department in the National Archives and concurrently, the old National Museum which he led through a strategic planning process to transform it into the current three museums under the National Heritage Board. As former Chairman of National Library Aadvisory Committee, Mr Kwa provided strategic direction to position the National Library as the research hub for Singapore and Southeast Asia materials through building a strong collection and relevant services.
25 August 2021 (UTC +8)
Learning from the “Keepers of Memory”: Imagining a Different Genealogy for Oral History in the Asian Context by Indira Chowdhury
What would the genealogy of oral history look like if we contextualised our practice within diverse cultures of orality? Would cultures that are often non-literate and primarily oral offer us new insights into the nature of our practice as oral historians? My talk is based in the context of my practice in India but much of what I say might be relevant for other parts of Asia, most of Africa and South America, and in other regions where oral traditions though increasingly marginalised, still form part of everyday life. I begin with an exploration of ‘oral histories’ that were created prior to audio recording technologies; such oral reminiscences were listened to and transcribed by the listener and checked by the speaker to create a record of lived experience from the past. One such example initiated by Rabindranath Tagore in 1941 was transcribed reminiscences of his nephew, the artist Abanindranath Tagore which offer us a glimpse of Tagore’s childhood and the times he grew up in. But while encouraging his nephew, the artist Abanindranath Tagore, to speak about his life and times and he also asked the writer Rani Chanda to transcribe these memories. Abanindranath called Rani Chandra – the srutidhari – the keeper of memory. Tagore or his nephew were not inventing something new. The “keeper of memory” plays a significant role in transcribing and recording traditional epics, songs and performances in India. Unlike the USA or UK, oral historians in India cannot argue about a founding parent. I argue that there is no single origin for oral history in India or more generally, within cultures of orality. Tracing the role played by “keepers of memory” in a few traditional oral repositories I suggest a different approach to understanding the uses of memory within oral history in such contexts. Such an approach enables us to understand the dynamic relationship between what is spoken, what is remembered and the complex negotiations that intertwine past, present and mythical time within local contexts. I shall end my talk with an analyses of my interview with Ranjit Chitrakar, a traditional scroll painter about his Covid scroll and his understanding of the pandemic. The role played by the “keeper of memory” within the interview helps us to gain a nuanced perspective of the intertwined nature of what is spoken about and what is listened to and pushes us to recognize the unacknowledged presence of the mythical within the historical thus deepening our understanding of memory and history and inviting us to transform our oral history practice.
About the Speaker:
Indira Chowdhury is Founder-Director of the Centre for Public History at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Formerly professor of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, she is also the founder of Archival Resources for Contemporary History (ARCH), Bengaluru, now known as ARCH@Srishti. A PhD in history from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, her book, The Frail Hero and Virile History (Delhi, OUP, 1998) won the Tagore prize in 2001. She was awarded the New India Fellowship to work on the manuscript of her recently published book titled Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (OUP: 2016). Interested in a number of fields he has translated novels from Bengali to English, compiled the Supplement of Indian English words in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (1996) and also created Archival books that bring archival material to the public. She researched and directed a book project on Asia’s oldest museum entitled The Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum (2017). Indira is a founding member of the Oral History Association of India. She was President of the Oral History Association of India (2013–2016) and President of the International Oral History Association (2014–2016). She blogs about oral history at http://theoralhistorian.com.
26 August 2021 (UTC +8)
Accelerating Innovation: Discovery, Engagement, and Risk by Douglas Boyd
Oral history, both the practice and the field, is growing very quickly around the world. Digital technologies are generating exciting opportunities for discovery and engagement, making connections, and creating access points for archived oral histories that once were unimaginable. Free and open source technologies empower researchers to connect a textual search of online oral history collections to the corresponding moments in the recorded audio or video interviews. Recent innovation has generated revolutionary possibilities and the potential for a single oral history interview or project to significantly impact the global historical record. However, automated workflows and innovative access to oral history also raise significant questions about individual privacy and the ethics of access. Doug Boyd will reflect on the impact of emerging and innovative technologies on the practice and purpose of oral history. Additionally, Boyd will reflect on accelerating changes involving automatic speech recognition and artificial intelligence, as well as on the changing roles of the oral history archive.
About the Speaker:
Douglas Boyd, PhD is director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. Boyd envisioned, designed, and implemented the open-source and free Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), which synchronizes text with audio and video online. Boyd is the co-editor of the book Oral History and Digital Humanities: Voice, Access, and Engagement published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2014, and he is the author of the book Crawfish Bottom: Recovering a Lost Kentucky Community published in August 2011 by the University Press of Kentucky. Boyd served as president of the Oral History Association in the United States in 2016–2017 and conducted research in Australia as a Fulbright Scholar in 2019. Boyd manages the Oral History in the Digital Age initiative, authors the blog Digital Omnium, is the producer and host of The Wisdom Project podcast, and has authored numerous articles pertaining to oral history, archives, and digital technologies.