The limits of oral history: ethics and methodology amid highly politicized research settings

Erin Jessee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In recent years, oral history has been celebrated by its practitioners for its humanizing potential, and its ability to democratize history by bringing the narratives of people and communities typically absent in the archives into conversation with that of the political and intellectual elites who generally write history. And when dealing with the narratives of ordinary people living in conditions of social and political stability, the value of oral history is unquestionable. However, in recent years, oral historians have increasingly expanded their gaze to consider intimate accounts of extreme human experiences, such as narratives of survival and flight in response to mass atrocities. This shift in academic and practical interests begs the questions: Are there limits to oral historical methods and theory? And if so, what are these limits? This paper begins to address these questions by drawing upon fourteen months of fieldwork in Rwanda and Bosnia-Hercegovina, during which I conducted multiple life history interviews with approximately one hundred survivors, ex-combatants, and perpetrators of genocide and related mass atrocities. I argue that there are limits to the application of oral history, particularly when working amid highly politicized research settings.
LanguageEnglish
Pages287-307
Number of pages11
JournalOral History Review
Volume38
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Fingerprint

Oral History
Methodology
Atrocities
History
Historical Theory
Flight
Rwanda
Perpetrators
Genocide
Intellectual Elites
Life History
Survivors
Political Elites
Bosnia
Field Work
Historical Method
Oral Historians
Human Experience

Keywords

  • oral history
  • historical research methods
  • Bosnia-Hercegovina
  • mass atrocities
  • Rwanda
  • ethics
  • methodologies

Cite this

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The limits of oral history : ethics and methodology amid highly politicized research settings. / Jessee, Erin.

In: Oral History Review, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2011, p. 287-307.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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