For anybody interested in oral history, a 2012 paper by Sheyfali Saujani warrants a close read: ‘Empathy and Authority in Oral Testimony: Feminist Debates, Multicultural Mandates, and Reassessing the Interviewer and her “Disagreeable” Subjects’

I’ve been working for some months on a book about the life and legacy of an Alberta speech therapist that I’ve been asked to write. The target audience includes the stuttering self-help community, speech pathology students, and the general public.

I’ve been doing interviews with people across North America plus one so far in Europe and further interviews are planned for Australia and New Zealand.

I’m also doing a lot of reading about Albertan, Canadian, and world history and the related topic of historiography. In the circumstances, the interviews are by phone or Zoom, as the case may be. It’s interesting work.

With regard to historiography, which concerns itself with the writing of history, I’ve been reading about the theory and practice related to oral history as a way of gathering information about history.

I’ve been involved with oral history over the past decade in connection with the twenty-one years that I lived in the neighbourhood of Long Branch in Toronto; I’m always keen to learn more about how to best go about conducting oral history interviews. I’ve recently come across a paper that I’ve found absolutely fascinating and highly valuable.

Possibly, in future I’ll have time to highlight some key passages from this paper. For now, it will suffice to share a link to it, along with the abstract.

The paper, by Sheyfali Saujani, is entitled:

Empathy and Authority in Oral Testimony: Feminist Debates, Multicultural Mandates, and Reassessing the Interviewer and her “Disagreeable” Subjects

The abstract reads:

Archives specializing in oral history tend not to report the life stories of their own researchers, and oral historians rarely address problems of interpreting interviews conducted by others. This paper draws on the detailed memoir of the feminist scholar Vijay Agnew, who recorded the testimonies of South Asian immigrant women in Canada for an ethnic history archive in 1970s Toronto, to explore the relationship between empathy and the struggle for authority in oral testimonies. Situating the archive within the emergent Canadian discourse of official multiculturalism, the paper shows how the competing post colonial discourses at work in this period were incorporated, resisted or strategically deployed by both interviewer and interviewee to reveal how middle class immigrant women reacted to the ascription of ethnicity, and the heightened racism they experienced in the mid-70s.

Les archives spécialisées dans l’histoire orale décrivent peu la vie de leurs propres chercheurs, et les spécialistes de l’histoire orale s’intéressent rarement aux difficultés d’interpréter les entrevues réalisées par autrui. Cet article s’inspire des mémoires détaillées de la professeure féministe Vijay Agnew, qui a enregistré les témoignages d’immigrantes sud-asiatiques au Canada pour constituer une archive de l’histoire ethnique du Toronto des années 1970 afin d’étudier la relation entre l’empathie et la lutte pour le pouvoir dans les témoignages oraux. En situant l’archive dans le discours alors naissant au Canada sur le multiculturalisme officiel, l’article montre comment s’y prenaient tant l’intervieweuse que l’interviewée pour faire leurs, combattre ou propager les discours postcoloniaux qui s’affrontaient durant cette période afin de révéler la façon dont les immigrantes de la classe moyenne réagissaient à l’étiquette d’ethnicité qui leur était accolée et au racisme accru dont elles faisaient l’objet au milieu des années 1970.

In the event errors have occurred in copy and paste of the French language version of the abstract, please refer to the original link to access the correct version.

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