TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Juni 2010

Sektion 7.10. Oral History, Documentary Photography, the Archive and Social Change
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Vorname Name (Ort)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Sektionsbericht 7.10.

Oral History, Documentary Photography,
the Archive and Social Change

Terry Brotherstone (University of Aberdeen, Scotland) [BIO]



The main contributors were Terry Brotherstone (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), chair and moderator; Hugo Manson (University of Wellington, New Zealand and the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute, Scotland); Alexandra Brehme (University of Aberdeen); Alessandro Portelli (University of Rome-La Sapienza); Duncan Forbes (Senior Photography Curator, national Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh); Alex Law (University of Abertay, Dundee, Scotland); and Owen Logan (Creative Arts Fellow in History, University of Aberdeen).

Apologies were received from Danny James (formerly of the University of Indiana, now the University of Aberdeen), who had contributed notes on the paper he had planned to deliver. Participants came from USA, Austria and the UK.

The section was called ‘Oral history, documentary photography, the archive and social change’. The purpose was to examine in an interdisciplinary and socially outward-looking way interconnections between the collection, historical analysis, and making available in accessible archives, of oral documentation and visual representation. The session was informed by a common concern with ideas about individual and popular agency in social change. The basis for the discussion and for the choice of participating scholars was the carrying out since 2006, at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland (with the support of the British Library in London), of a major oral-history project on the history of the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry - a key component in the UK economy since its crisis of the 1970s. The participation of a well-known documentary photographer, Owen Logan, has allowed this initiative to branch out into innovative work on the role of visual imagery in promoting social involvement in the analysis of the content of such an archive in ways that can promote informed popular involvement in progressive social change.

The Lives in the Oil Industry project, then, has led to an important initiative in archiving oral documentation, and the examination of issues concerning public and scholarly access to such an archive. The central outcome of the section was a decision to continue collaboration in ongoing work towards developing and publishing this agenda. James will be heading up a Centre at Aberdeen University to which Brotherstone, Portelli, Manson and Logan will be formally attached. Forbes and Law will be invited to seminars and to participate in other collaborative work.

This practical outcome was the great achievement of the seminar and would have been much more difficult to achieve without the opportunity it provided. But the discussion on the day was itself very stimulating. Brotherstone, director of Lives in the Oil Industry, provided an overview of the Aberdeen initiatives; Manson, who carried out the interviewing for LOI, described and exemplified his ‘life story’ methodology; Brehme discussed her work as a postgraduate student starting from the Manson archive and her training in oral history to examine the recent history of the Shetland Islands - an important study in modernisation consequent on the arrival of the global oil industry; Logan, in a far-reaching paper, examined how oral documentation has the potential to be the most democratic of historical tools, but only if there is an interrogation of its methodologies analogous to that which has taken place since the 1930s in documentary photography; Law and Forbes spoke, largely on the basis of visual evidence, about how the shaping of archives is not a socially and politically neutral process; Portelli, probably the participant best-known internationally and most innovative of oral historians, spoke on how the misremembering of an episode in the Risorgimento has played a changing role in Italian history; and. James submitted a draft paper on his work - regarded internationally as a major contribution to oral-history methodology - on the Argentine ‘disappeared’.

It is hoped that the Aberdeen initiative will now develop formally into a Centre for Oral Documentation, History and Memory, based at the University. James is now Professor of Hispanic Studies there, with Portelli likely soon to be appointed Visiting Professor in Oral History. The objects of the Centre will include the establishment of a growing school of research with a European dimension and international reputation, which will not merely add to the quantity of oral-history documentation but will make qualitative contributions to answering the kinds of questions about the compilation of, and access to, archives, and about the use of visual imagery that informed the Vienna seminar, and which are now urgent if the worldwide democratic potential of oral history is to realised.

It is hoped that, at a future INST conference, it will be possible to return with a report and with conclusions that will benefit oral-history scholarship and its role in promoting historical consciousness in society - acknowledging that the initial discussion of this agenda at the 2007 conference was seminal in promoting this discussion in a practical way.

7.10. Oral History, Documentary Photography, the Archive and Social Change

Sektionsgruppen| Section Groups| Groupes de sections

TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Terry Brotherstone: Section report 7.10.: Oral History, Documentary Photography, the Archive and Social Change - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

Webmeister: Gerald Mach     last change: 2010-06-06