Understanding how individual perspectives on history build collective memory
Oral History and Public Memories
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edited by Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes
Oral History and Public Memories is the first book to explore the relationship between the well-established practice of oral history and the burgeoning field of memory studies. In the past, oral historians have generally privileged the individual narrator, frequently fetishizing the interview process without fully understanding that interviews are only one form of memory-making. Historians engaged in memory studies, on the other hand, have asked broader questions—about the social and cultural processes at work in remembrance, for example. What distinguishes these essays from much work in oral history is their focus not on the experiences of individual narrators, but on the broader cultural meanings of oral history narratives. What distinguishes them from other work in memory studies is their grounding in real events. Taken together, these contributions explain the processes by which oral histories move beyond interviews with individual people to become articulated memories shared by others.
"The welcome purpose of this collection is to…seek some form of rapprochement between oral history and memory studies.... Each chapter takes us somewhere quite different, geographically as well as culturally, but each author considers in some way the relation between their own ethnographic practice and the link-ups between individual life stories and social memory. Through this focus on the broader cultural meanings and significance of oral history narratives, the book operates as a creative exchange between the adjacent but hitherto largely separated fields of memory studies and oral history.... The real promise of the book lies in the marriage of an empirical concern with memory in public with the critical question of the publicness of memory."
"This book is the result of a fruitful collaboration between two highly regarded oral historians...In the introduction, the authors regret the lack of published work on 'how oral history... both reflects and shapes collective or public memory.' This anthology is an important contribution towards rectifying that lacuna."
"[Chapters] illustrate how oral history can be used as an important tool for enabling personal narratives, transforming public memories and making social change... Several of the chapters...make excellent use of a range of theoretical approaches to memory work.... [T]aken as a whole, this book is one important step towards a rapprochement between oral history and memory scholarship."
"Oral history interviews often turn up surprises, and this book is full of surprises.... No "Cliff Notes" like this review can do justice to this book because the rich details, subtle nuances, and brilliant research strategies are not explored, but the breadth and depth of the collection can be glimpsed. Oral History and Public Memories will speed the development of oral history in the direction of international sharing of information and will make a significant contribution to refinement of oral history research methods."
"These essays provide a fascinating around-the-world tour of oral history projects that focus on a great variety of subjects.... This volume has many strengths to recommend it to public historians and scholars in related disciplines. The editors did a commendable job of organizing the material and demonstrating its thematic cohesion.... This volume does a service to both oral and public historians by provoking us to rethink what exactly public memory is, how it is related to the individual life experience, and how it is shaped or reformed."
"[T]his book [is] a valuable one, thoughtfully and cleverly edited, with a very good choice of essays, which reflect a large range of geographical and cultural situations. Its success in connecting the fields of oral history and of public memory confirms that this was a much-needed step and one that sheds light on both areas."
"Oral History and Public Memories is a carefully chosen collection of a worldwide investigation... The introductions to each part are clearly and comprehensively penned. There is a useful index and extensive notes and citations accompany the essays. The collaboration between Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes, two illustrious historians in touch across the continental divide between Australia and the United States, has resulted in a volume that is not only instructive and interesting, but inspires reflection and promotes the understanding of the synthesis and the mutual dependence of oral history and public memory."
Introduction: Creating Heritage
Introduction: Recreating Identity and Community
Introduction: Making Changes
Paula Hamilton is Associate Professor in History at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. She is co-director of the Australian Centre for Public History, and co-editor of Public History Review.
Linda Shopes is a freelance editor and consultant; and formerly a historian at the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. She is Past President of the U.S. Oral History Association, and co-editor of the series Studies in Oral History.
In the series
Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.