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Cursus – Oral history and life stories

Oral history and life stories

Candidates: PhD candidates and advanced RMA students
Credits: 3 ECTS
Data: 10, 12, 17, 24 en 27 January 2012
Location: PC Hoofthuis room 1.14 (except 17 January, room 3.08), Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
Fee (non-members): € 250
Max. number of participants: 15

Historians and other researchers talk about memory and are influenced by memory, while they know memory is a difficult and problematic source of historical knowledge. During this course we shall concentrate on the use of memory for a description of the past. We will take stock of various efforts to create a more systematic approach than ‘just talking about days long gone’. How can we create a research pattern that overcomes the incidental and replaces it by an integration of the changing character of spoken narratives about the past? And we shall discuss those in relation to other ego-documents, bearing in mind other ways of interviewing about personal experience. We shall analyze the creation of a particular kind of knowledge and analyze its production of alternative and unfamiliar viewpoints. What kind of insights, for instance, may or may not be discovered through personal interviews?

General starting-point for discussion is the study of life stories and oral history as traditions in the humanities and social sciences. In due course, additional attention will be paid to alternative modes of in-depth interviews. Issues to be investigated in particular concern the questions of intersubjectivity; (self) reflection; identification with the Other and her/his past; and the interviewer’s role in the process of meaning/knowledge production. What are our responsibilities towards people we interview, do we have particular responsibilities in our research communities? What does it mean to be close to an interviewee, what happens if there is distance or when we don’t like what we hear? Do we have to agree with our interviewees?

The literature is composed of various articles, informing us how to organize a larger interview project, discussing how to analyze interviews. The various stages of such a large project will be followed. The list of literature is updated annually. There are always guest lecturers who explain how they overcome difficulties during their research, while the course also discusses more theoretical approaches with them .

An element becoming more important is the use of websites for the dissemination of narrated accounts and the making of interviews with the help of a camera. Leydesdorff shall use images from interviews she recently held.

As usual advanced researchers who want to refresh their knowledge with recent literature and who want to bring their problems and subjects to the discussion will be welcome. They are asked to accept a status in which they are equal with other participants. Students will be asked to prepare commentaries on the literature.