Oral history: methods, challenges and current debates - 12.-13.04.2018

Workshop with Chrischené Julius

Oral history as a discipline emerged from the desire to tell the story of the "ordinary" person - to treat the personal as archival and to deploy this in producing histories. Oral history emerged particularly as a tool to narrate those voices left out of the official historical canon and the archival record. It was seen as a tool to empower, to foreground personal and collective experiences and to counter the hegemonic ideas of the state. It was therefore especially regarded as suitable for researching the experiences of marginalised groups, e.g. workers, peasants, women, LGBTQ communities and people living under colonial regimes or dictatorships. Equipped with a recorder, a questionnaire and oftentimes an interpreter, oral history developed important texts within the historical canon of Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. However, the debates that emerged within the production of these texts dealt largely with how it perpetuated a "domination versus resistance" model of history, and the ways in which it silenced how the interviews and texts were in themselves authored with inherent and uncritical bias. A call emerged for a self-reflexivity in the practice of collecting stories - understanding the socio-political contexts in which people perform stories and relate them. Memory studies emerged as a key framework for enabling this self-reflexivity. The workshop will focus on the practical considerations when taking on an oral history approach, and will frame these under current debates around "voice" - exploring authorship and the incentive to tell 'ordinary' stories - and working with nostalgia and writing history. It is on the one hand designed as a general introduction to oral history and will provide an overview of methods, challenges and current debates. On the other hand it offers participants who are doing oral history research or are planning to do so in the future an opportunity to present and discuss ideas, questions, challenges or select data (e.g. a collection or example of oral history) related to their own research projects. The workshop is aimed at both participants with no prior knowledge of oral history who are interested in learning more about the method as well as participants who have experience with it. PhD students from all areas of specialisation are welcome. Texts for preparation will be circulated before the workshop.

When & Where

Thursday 12.04.2018: 2.30 - 6.00 pm

Friday 13.04.2018: 9.30 am - 1.00 pm. A lunch will follow.

Department of History, Hirschgässlein 21, 4051 Basel, Seminar Room 3


All participants are invited to register no later than 29th March 2018 via this form.

PhD students of the University of Basel who would like to get 1 credit point must register additionally via MOnA no later than 26th March 2018.

Participants who would like to present and discuss their research projects are invited to send a brief abstract no later than 15th March 2018 to melanie.boehi@unibas.ch. (max. 2000 characters).


Chrischené Julius is visiting the Basel Graduate School of History in April 2018 as a BGSH fellow. She is a South African historian and the Head of the Collections, Research and Documentation Department of the District Six Museum in Cape Town. The District Six Museum has since its foundation in 1994 conducted extensive oral history research for its exhibitions and archive about experiences of District Six and forced removals in Cape Town. It has developed an interdisciplinary and multi-genre approach to historical research and collaborates regularly with academic historians, artists, community organisations and youth groups. Chrischené Julius has managed and conducted interviews for various oral history projects of the District Six Museum. Her current research focuses on how oral history intersects with the functioning of the Museum as a public space which not only reproduces historical narratives but also actively produces them.