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.
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 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 program 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.
The MA PP-OH is rooted in the following core values:
- Hands-on history
- Inclusion of multiple narratives
- Trans-disciplinary approach to the past
- Collaborative interpretation
Oral history interview with Professor Amartya Sen, CPH-Economic and Political Weekly Project, 2014.
Who Should Apply?
The MA PP-OH is suitable for anyone interested in the past – whether immediate, recent, or distant – and interested in using interviews to gain access to it.
It can be valuable to a diverse set of professionals from filmmakers and journalists to healthcare professionals and NGO workers – over and above historians and social scientists.
The ethically exacting, methodologically collaborative, and theoretically nuanced nature of the discipline would ensure that any professional trained in oral history becomes empathetic, and not exploitative, in their approach towards the individuals they interview and the memories these individuals share with them.
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.
The MA PP-OH offers the following ways of approaching oral history theory and practice, which include curricular instruction as well as more extensive and engaged opportunities to think about oral history beyond the classroom.
- Electives: Engagement outside the workspace that allows for extension and building connections. This can include visits to exhibitions, plays, places, talks, walks, and participation in workshops and studios. It also includes the option to take another unit or course in a parallel course of professional practice (such as in oral history methods; design thinking, etc.).
- Dissertation as Personal Mastery: Practice based research and its documentation; dissertation and viva voce.
- Peer Circles: Participative opportunities for dialogue and reviews that can be facilitated and independent, face-to-face, or online (such as blogs, discussion board conversations, and wiki creation).
- Portfolio: Development of a reflective and curated body of work, which represents professional practice over a period of time.
- Practice: Experiential, embodied, field-work including that in the workplace. Practice includes self-study and reflective documentation (for example, journaling and maintaining reflective blogs).
- Studios, Labs and Circles: Immersive spaces and forums that foster making, experimenting, conversations, thinking and a sense of being.
- Tutorials: Face-to-face and online master classes, workshops, seminars, online courses (MOOCs, ThinkQuests, blogs, discussion forums, wikis, webinars, etc.), etc.
- Webinars: Forums for receiving feedback on projects undertaken and for presenting and defending a written paper and dissertation in response to a given situation, context, or proposition.
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. The pathway 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.
Oral history class conducted by CPH at Patan, Nepal in April 2015.
The MA PP-OH will cultivate the following capabilities among students:
- 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 conceptualise 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.
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
- 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
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
- 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:
- Processing and archiving interviews
- Audio recording
- Digital archiving
- Video recording
Listening stations at IIMC Kolkata’s archival exhibition “Welcome to the Archives”, 2014 .
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.