The material of oral history is the information and stories people share about specific events and situations. This approach hinges on the strong emotional and educative power of testimonials and the belief that they can bring about social and political change.
Furthermore, although there is often pressure for researchers keep a distance and, above all, to remain as objective as possible, the field of oral history often moves in the opposite direction toward “learning with” rather than simply “learning about”.
Ethical and methodological issues related to giving testimonials are of particular interest to the working committee on oral history and digital storytelling. The committee draws on the expertise of Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS), an interdisciplinary research centre that provides support to the project’s other working committees.
The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS), Concordia University
Founded in 2006, COHDS is co-directed by Steven High and Elena Razlogova and is a point of convergence for oral and digital history, teaching, and scientific publication by researchers and students, and numerous community projects at the local, national, and international levels. The centre explores the links between oral history, the arts, and new media with the aim of increasing access to life story archives in audio-visual format for research activities and facilitating collaboration among scholars, students, and the public, online and around the world. In addition to providing a context for scientific inquiry, COHDS produces digital archives as well as computer-based and audiovisual production tools. Local researchers and artists are actively involved in these activities and “shared authority” is at the heart of the centre’s research ethics. COHDS’s long-term objective is to become a world leader in oral history, digital innovation, and artistic creation. From 2007 to 2012, COHDS led Montreal Life Stories, a project about Montrealers displaced by war, genocide, and other human rights violations, during which 500 people were interviewed. In addition to Testimonial Cultures, COHDS is currently involved in a range of projects dealing with subjects such as post-industrial urban transformation and access to oral poetry archives.
Digital media, participative processes
Digital and interactive platforms have disrupted the usual division between those who produce and those who receive media messages. The emergence of digital and online media that are social and participative creates enormous opportunities for diverse people to speak up and express themselves. Whether recorded or in real-time, individuals who have been underrepresented in traditional media can find a voice and develop new skills by becoming storytellers, narrators, filmmakers, directors, or photographers.
The ways in which digital media can spark processes of change through participative exchange is a key topic of interest for the Testimonial Cultures project.