I have recently read Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (2002) and have begun to read They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (2011)

Some years ago I read a few pages of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (2002) by Anna Funder about life in East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was impressed with what I read at the time, and recently have read the entire book.

The brief passages, highlighted at the link in the previous paragraph, that originally caught my attention resonate even more strongly given that I’ve now read the story, inside of which they are embedded.
I read Stasiland, from cover to cover this time, because it’s mentioned in a Doctor of Creative Arts dissertation (also highly impressive) by Siobhan McHugh:

Oral history and the radio documentary/feature: intersections and synergies (2010)

The dissertation also speaks of the significant contribution Alessandro Portelli has made to the theory and practice of oral history. I have recently begun to read Portelli’s study, based on twenty-five years of interviews, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (2011).

Both books – by Anna Funder and Alessandro Portelli – are awesome. I look forward to reading other accounts related to topics addressed by Funder and Portelli, to get a sense of how other accounts may be structured. My interest (quite aside from the subject matter itself) is with regard to ways in which books and media productions, based upon oral history interviews and archival resources, can be put together.

Also of interest, with regard to books based upon interviews: a March 23, 2021 Tyee article is entitled: “A Master Interviewer Shares His Secrets: Craig Taylor turned conversations with 200 New Yorkers into an acclaimed new book, much of it polished near Nanaimo.”

An excerpt reads:

I work with a list of verbs — many can be applied to places like New York or London. It’s one way to ensure I’m interviewing people about action rather than asking them to reflect. Because the book is about action it takes a reader into different worlds. People love to talk about what they do, and in doing so they reveal a lot about their lives, their joys, their pains and everything else.

Memories are malleable; oral history takes this into account

Oral history as theory and practice takes into account what we know about how memories work (a topic addressed at a previous post):

Memories are malleable – capable of being stretched or bent into different shapes

1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    As noted at a previous post, a passage from p. 136 of Stasiland by Anna Funder, concerning an interview with a former GDR propaganda official, continues to resonate:

    He can switch from from one view to another with frightening ease. I think it is a sign of being accustomed to such power that the truth does not matter because you cannot be contradicted.

    When I recently read the entire book, after having read handfuls of pages years earlier, I have noted to myself that I had recently copied the above-noted passage into a notebook, of the kind that I use for keeping track of what I’m reading and thinking about. Clearly, this is a quote that resonates profoundly, from my perspective as a reader. A related concept, which I’ve explored from time to time at this website is that, sometimes, power speaks its own language whereby in is out, up is down, and big is small.

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