“At this Conference, let us reiterate (sic) internationalism, anti-racism and co-operation”. Dr Robert Perks, lead of the oral history team at the British Library (UK) set the tone for discussion and debate about the practices of oral history and the “concerns” around the idea of the archive at the first public panel of the XIXth International Oral History Conference 2016 in the Choksi Memorial Hall, Indian Institute of Science.
Earlier, the first day of panels, exhibitions and film screenings started off at a brisk pace on the second day of the XIXth International Oral History Conference 2016 at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The engagements for the day included diverse practice(s) of oral history, via memories that stay and those that don’t when people face situations like the Partition, war and migrations not of their making. The day’s panels also discussed global perspectives on oral history, the theory and practice of the same, feminist oral histories, community and oral histories, resistance oral histories, oral histories in a rapidly changing urban space, local art traditions via oral history, public health and oral history and many more. Attesting to the Conference being a platform for diversity, panels and papers were presented by participants from Macao, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Romania, Germany, Singapore and China to highlight just a few. Papers from India were wide ranging, from engagements with nation, borders and refugees to war memories and how to ‘present’ the archive in various forms and mediums. A panel with papers presented in both English and Spanish on oral history, community and resistance attested to the bilingual nature of the Conference.
In the afternoon, film screenings and exhibitions were preceded by presentations made by various artists, curators and filmmakers about their projects and their use of oral history in their respective practices. The presentations about exhibitions included three from Nepal and one from Sri Lanka: “So Far from Home”: Voices of Nepali Women Workers from the Informal Sector in India, Stories from Thulo Byasi, Basibiyalo and Archiving Women’s History in Sri Lanka through the HerStories project. These exhibitions will be on display until June 30, 2016. Films that were screened today included ‘Hospital’ by Sindhu Thirumalaiswamy (India), ‘A Buddhist Cosmology in Food’ by Rita Langer (Germany/UK) and ‘Badalte Nakshe (Changing Maps)’ by Nithila Kanagasabai (India).
The Public Panel “What happens when oral history goes public? Oral history online” chaired by Dr. Robert Perks consisted of speakers like Urvashi Butalia (India), Tamara Kennelly (USA), Anjali Monteiro/KP Jayasankar (India) and Venkat Srinivasan (India). Dr. Perks set the scene for this panel by putting focus on issues like current ethical practices of creating and maintaining an archive of interview recordings in various mediums, the changing role of the archivist, and the changes internet access is making to the way oral historians and archivists record histories. Some vital questions that were put across in this panel highlighted the struggle archivists have with providing ‘context’, data that is out of the control of oral historians and archivists, and the changing ideas about guardianship, ownership and what constitutes the ‘public’. Urvashi Butalia summed up the challenges of creating an archive and fuelled further discussion and debate by asking what happens to the archive after it is created. “When an archive goes public, the expectation is that the archive will remain or stay public”. Urvashi’s reflection on the idea of the archive, the notion of going public and the archivist’s responsibility towards the public and people’s memories and stories are issues that the Conference will highlight and debate in the days to come.