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MA Professional Practices

  

Pathway : Oral History

“Orality is not just a vehicle of information but also a component of its meaning. The dialogic and narrative form of oral sources culminate in the density and complexity of language itself. The very tones and accents of the oral discourse convey the history and identity of the speakers, and transmit meanings well beyond the speaker’s conscious intention.” - Alessandro Portelli



Oral and performance traditions shape the way we understand oral history in India. Shinde Anjaneyulu and family perform Tolu Bommalata at the XIXth International Oral History Conference held in Bengaluru in June 2016.


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Life stories and memories are powerful tools with which to understand our complex world. Oral history, which uses both these tools, allows us to ask questions and learn the perspectives of people who were never included in official historical records. It thus enables access to what events, social practices, and political decisions meant to people. The art of speaking to people about their experiences is in itself a singular form of human interaction that helps us understand the past and the present and so build a stronger foundation for the future.

We, the Center for Public History (CPH) at the Srishti Manipal Institute (SMI), envision the Master of Arts in Professional Practices: Oral History (MA PP-OH) as an opportunity for professionals to engage theoretically and practically with the changing of society. This interdisciplinary course will enable professionals from different backgrounds to become practitioners who explore the deep connections between history, memory, and experience and through their practice transform into individuals who can move across disciplines and create new resources that offer deep insights into the dynamics of the past and present in the context of their own institutions, families, and communities.



Oral history interview with Professor Amartya Sen, CPH-Economic and Political Weekly Project, 2014.


Course Structure

  • Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary studios
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Lines of Inquiries (Field work, Case Studies, Investigations, individual or Group Projects, Transdisciplinary Research)
  • Theory and Understanding
  • Independent Study
  • Open Elective
  • Practicum
  • Master classes/webinars
  • Exhibitions
  • Culminating Performances of Understanding (Portfolio, transdisciplinary research, projects, colloquium, capstone/dissertation)
  • Knowledge Enhancement (ability or skills)


Learning Approaches

Learning at the postgraduate level is driven by published lines of inquiries that is enacted through studio-based learning, workshops, theoretical reflections and field work. This approach cultivates a creative practice through engagement in diverse contexts, collaborative and participatory approaches leading to knowledge development.

The MA PP-OH provides those who are working with the opportunity to learn the art and craft of doing oral history and situating their interviews within a critical and theoretical framework. It is designed to have a certain period of residency during which students learn through immersive intensive experiences such as Master Classes, Workshops, and Peer Circle discussions.

In the time that the students spend in their field of practice, they undertake independent study and research and be part of webinars. There is also ongoing mentoring. Students learn through online peer circle participatory platforms such as discussion boards and writing blogs. They also undertake fieldwork based projects – professionals employed in institutional archives could build oral history archives, those working in schools could work with pedagogic aspects of oral history by engaging with project-based learning, and those involved in other work could pursue a project of their own interest.

By undertaking background research, conducting interviews, paying attention to the ethical dimensions of interviewing, archiving the material, and interpreting and curating the oral history interviews, students learn to apply the skills that they learn in the course and situate their practice within a broader theoretical and practical framework. The Capstone/Dissertation project is based on fieldwork and students complete their project under the guidance of expert and experienced advisors.

This practical, “hands-on” learning approach enables students to take their practice back to their place of work or launch new careers as independent oral historians.


Mode of Learning


The Master of Arts in Professional Practices is offered through a combination of on-campus studios and tutorials and practice-based research in the field, which is available in different modes.

The Oral History pathway within it is offered in a mode that requires eight weeks of presence on campus every year for in-person studios and tutorials that is combined with supervised practice-based research in the field.

This mode is designed for professionals with a strong inclination for independent study and for whom periodic short-term intensive on-campus study is most viable. Professionals would need to plan for sixteen weeks of presence on campus at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore over the two years of the course.

● In the first semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for two weeks.
 The two weeks would be dedicated to an introduction to oral history, the learnings from which would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.

● In the second semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for six weeks over two phases – the first of four weeks and the second of two weeks.
 The first phase of four weeks would be dedicated to further instruction in oral history.
 The second phase of two weeks would be dedicated to participation in the Winter School in Oral History. The learnings from both phases would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty

● In the third semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for two weeks.
 The two weeks would be dedicated to advanced instruction in oral history, the learnings from which would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty

● In the fourth and final semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for six weeks over two phases – the first of four weeks and the second of two weeks.
 The first phase of four weeks would be dedicated to formulating a research proposal for the capstone/dissertation project and initiating work on it. The work on the project would be done through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.
 The second phase of two weeks would be dedicated to finishing the work on the capstone/dissertation project.


Oral history class conducted by CPH at Patan, Nepal in April 2015.


Capability Sets

Upon successful completion of this course, graduates will have developed the following capabilities:

  • Interviewing: Students will learn the craft of the oral history interview, which includes doing background research, creating relevant topics, and framing questions along with negotiating issues of rights, handling recording devices, conducting interviews, and transcribing and editing them.
  • Archiving: Students will learn to conceptualize and create archives for oral history interviews, which involve ethics, legal issues, issues of access as well as planning for the obsolescence of technology to ensure the survival of oral history recordings for future users.
  • Interpreting: Students will learn analytical skills and theoretical frameworks that would enable them to interpret oral history interviews and situate their understanding within a larger socio-cultural and political framework.
  • Curating: Students will learn to edit and curate oral history interviews and learn the art of dissemination through different media – printed material such as books and audio-visual material such as exhibitions, films, and memory walks.


Opportunities

Oral history is being increasingly used in schools, institutions, and the corporate sector. CPH’s wide client base will enable students to find suitable employment/consulting opportunities after completion of the MA PP-OH in the following sectors:

  • Institutions and Corporate sector
    • Archival Consultant for corporates and institutions using oral history as a tool 
  • Museum sector
    • Oral History Curator for exhibitions and light and sound shows
  • NGO sector
    • Community Worker
  • Media sector
    • Oral historians who work with filmmakers as collaborators/consultants and lead interviewers
    • Program designers for radio and television including community radio
    • Journalists
  • Education sector
    • Designers for pedagogic interventions through oral history
    • Consultants for school projects
    • Higher Education – Ph.D. in Oral History, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Communication Studies, or any discipline that uses oral history



Listening stations at IIMC Kolkata’s archival exhibition “Welcome to the Archives”, 2014 .


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Disciplinary Intersections

Oral history draws on people’s experiences to reconstruct the past. The long interview forms the heart of oral history practice. Interviews explore people’s memories and thus enable us to add layers to the past that is accessible in written documents. Oral history changes the focus of what is available in official documents, incorporating marginal voices that are often ignored.

In order to understand the historical background within which to situate oral history interviews, students are trained not only in the historical method but also in methods used by related disciplines such as anthropology, geography, and sociology. Students focus on oral history within an academic context as well as its application and dissemination beyond – in institutional, corporate, and family archives as well as in film and theatre. They are introduced to a larger range of practices drawn from visual culture, literature, folk studies, and language studies so as to find new forms of expression. The core disciplines therefore include:

  • Aesthetics and Critical Studies
  • Curatorial Studies
  • Digital Arts
  • Linguistics
  • Literary Studies
  • Visual Communication Design

The practice of oral history integrates audio and video archiving, digital storytelling, and public history. Learning will therefore involve a combination of the following skills:

  • Interviewing
  • Processing and archiving interviews
  • Audio recording
  • Digital archiving
  • Video recording
  • Performance
  • Writing


Research and Collaboration

Students of MA PP-OH hone their skills by working on the ongoing projects of the Center for Public History (CPH). Since 2011, CPH has played a pioneering role in using oral history to create archives of contemporary Indian institutions, namely Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Kolkata, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai, Indian Museum, Kolkata, and Sasha, Kolkata. By engaging directly with CPH projects, students learn to integrate oral history, digital storytelling, and archival practices with communication tools that make history accessible to a larger public and move beyond academia.

CPH has taught numerous certificate courses in oral history and organised Winter Schools in Oral History with the collaboration of oral historians from across the world. In July 2016, CPH, through the Oral History Association of India (OHAI), organised the International Oral History Association’s XIXth conference.

CPH also collaborates with the numerous research and practice labs in Srishti Manipal and students will also have the opportunity of connecting with filmmakers, cultural activists, new media practitioners, artists, and designers who work with history and heritage. Students thus become part of a lively community.


 

FAQs

Oral history is the practice of collecting, recording, preserving and interpreting the experiences and memories of people in order to understand different aspects of the past. Oral history is one of the oldest forms of historical enquiry. Modern technologies of recording the human voice, first through the tape-recorder and then through new digital technologies, have made oral history one of the most contemporary forms of historical investigation. Oral history shares approaches with several traditional and new disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences – such as anthropology, sociology, and literature on the one hand and psychology and memory studies on the other. In countries like India, where oral traditions are still alive, oral history opens up ways of exploring the relationship between history, memory, and orality.

Oral historians record the memories of people around particular events or subjects through long, often multi-session interviews. The oral historian is able to listen deeply to people’s memories and ask them relevant historical questions and, in the process, open up a space within which the experience of the past might be shared, remembered, and interpreted. The oral historian thus co-creates with the interviewee a new historical resource. Oral historians publish their research in the form of books and articles, but they also create exhibitions, films, and websites.

Anyone interested in exploring the past through people’s memories can train to become an oral historian. Oral historians, who pioneered the field, were often self-taught. In India, until recently, no formal training was available; most oral historians were self-motivated and self-taught. They used oral history to explore the meanings of political events such as the Partition, disasters such as the Bhopal Gas Disaster, and social and political movements such as the women’s movement and the students’ movements. Those working in the field of memory studies and psychology often incorporate oral history into their work.

If you are interested in people’s stories and how they relate to understanding events of the past, you are likely to enjoy the practice of oral history. There are also other skills and qualities of the oral historian that might inspire and draw you. One of the primary skills that oral historians need to master is the art of listening. While cultivating an ear for people’s stories, the oral historian is also deeply engaged with different aspects of the past and is able hear memory and history speak to each other. Oral historians study and draw out connections between people’s experiences, historical events, and the material culture of the past. If these interests coincide with what you are interested in, you will find the practice of oral history a fulfilling one.

Apart from having a deep understanding of how we understand the past through raw materials, such as archival documents, photographs, material culture, and oral recordings, the oral historian requires excellent communication skills. Oral historians work with people and need to develop deep listening skills. They need research skills and the ability to weave their historical understanding into the interview questions they craft. They also need to have good writing skills in order to write about their oral history projects meaningfully. Oral historians need to become digitally literate as well – not only because they record their interviews on digital media but also because they create, disseminate, and maintain oral history archives.

The Srishti Manipal Institute (SMI) is one of the few institutions worldwide, and the only one in India, that offers a master’s degree in oral history. This course is offered to professionals, who wish to grow, develop and extend their practice. The course is customized for institutions looking to train their staff in creating and managing oral history archives and disseminating such material when gearing up for a commemorative anniversary. The course combines periods of residency at SMI with online participation and a practical component in the field..

It requires sixteen weeks of residency over the two years of its duration.
●    In the first semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for two weeks.
◦    The two weeks would be dedicated to an introduction to oral history, the learnings from which would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.
●    In the second semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for six weeks over two phases – the first of four weeks and the second of two weeks.
◦    The first phase of four weeks would be dedicated to further instruction in oral history.
◦    The second phase of two weeks would be dedicated to participation in the Winter School in Oral History. The learnings from both phases would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.
●    In the third semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for two weeks.
◦    The two weeks would be dedicated to advanced instruction in oral history, the learnings from which would be taken forward through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.
●    In the fourth and final semester, professionals would have to be present on campus for six weeks over two phases – the first of four weeks and the second of two weeks.
◦    The first phase of four weeks would be dedicated to formulating a research proposal for the capstone/dissertation project and initiating work on it. The work on the project would be done through practice-based research in the field supervised by designated members of the course faculty.
◦    The second phase of two weeks would be dedicated to finishing the work on the capstone/dissertation project.

A master’s degree is an ideal qualification for professionals who are managing oral history archives in institutions. It is also suited to those who wish to pursue a career that entails working with recording people’s memories and curating them for a range of audiences. There are a range of institutions and establishments that require this role to be fulfilled: archives, museums, libraries (both public and private), corporate bodies, NGOs, and media companies. Graduates can work as consultants to heritage projects that require oral history interviews. They can also work as oral history curators for exhibitions that require expertise in oral history. The course also makes students eligible to pursue doctoral degrees in disciplines that use oral history.




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