The inaugural OHAI Conference was held on the 18th and 19th November 2013
Bangalore, a city in the southern India and known for being the IT hub of the country, hosted the first Oral History Association of India Conference on Nov 18 and 19 2013. The conference was titled ‘Oral History in Our Times’ and it became an inaugural event for OHAI, which was founded as a professional organisation on May 14, 2013. Presently, the organisation has 40 members, and has plans to expand its reach in terms of its academic, research and archival resources. It was encouraging to see the widespread participation of over fifty researchers and practitioners of oral history from across India.
The first president of the association, Dr Pramod Srivastava, professor and head of history department at Lucknow University, welcomed the delegates and gave the inaugural address, which traced the history of the association in India. The well-known oral historians, Alessandro Portelli from Italy and Miroslav Vanek from Czech Republic – who is the former President of the International Oral History Association, also participated in the conference.
The two day sessions were marked by individual paper presentations, plenary sessions, public lectures and musical performances on important issues relating to oral history. Theoretical analysis went hand in hand with case studies, which included video presentations made by OH practitioners. While shortage of time was felt in almost all the presentations, there was no lack of discussions through interactive sessions.
The first day’s session on “Gender and Oral History began” began with the presentation by Sarmistha Dutta Gupta from Kolkata on ‘Anecdotes and Gendered Histories of Politics’. The other presentations in this section came from Malathi Ramanathan, Mumbai, whose focus was ‘Relevance of Oral History to Research on Gender’; Saraubh Mishra from Lucknow who looked at the district court of Lucknow to bring out the experiences of women in the legal profession; and Jyothsna Latha Belliappa and Sanchia de Souza both from Bangalore whose paper was on Anglo-Indian women school teachers in India. The second session on ‘Archiving Oral History’ began with the presentation ‘Towards a large scale collection and automatic annotation of personal oral histories’ by Dr Soma Paul who had co-authored the paper with Kishore Prahllad and Deepa Elluru. Dr Lye Soo Choon, a member of the National Archives of Singapore also presented a paper on ‘Oral History in Archives’ Perspective’.
Dr Miroslav Vanek, K. Lalita, Dr. Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff, Dr. Suroopa Mukherjee and Dr. Pramod Srivastava shared their experiences and works at the plenary session on ‘Experiences, Remembrance and Politics: Oral History in our Time’. Among other things it discussed the challenges in the field of oral history. The Young Researchers Forum saw participation by researchers from various universities in India. This section brought into focus the different areas of research and use of genres that OH promises, given its distinctly interdisciplinary nature.
On day two of the conference, Dr Mallika Saxena, Junuka Deshpande and Dr Fleur D’Souza made presentations on the theme ‘Oral History and Community’. Dr Saxena’s presentation was on oral histories of the widows of armed forces in Lucknow, while Junuka Deshpande shared her experience about doing oral history work in post-Tsunami Nicobar Islands. Dr Fleur D’Souza’s paper explored the history and the identity of the Pawaras of Shirpur, a community in the state of Maharashtra, and their relationship with the forest.
This was followed by a session on ‘Oral History and Oral Traditions’. Akhil Gupta’s paper, authored by Dr Sangeeta Krishna, was titled ‘Constructing Oral History: A Study of Mandalis and Non Mandalis in the villages of Uttar Pradesh’. Dr Vinita Sinha and Aiyesha Abrar’s paper was about uncovering the subversive alternative history in Maithili stories and songs. The third paper in this section, Reconstructing History of Indian Dances through Oral Traditions, was presented by Dr Ashish Mohan Khokar.
The panel discussion on ‘Oral History Methodology – Interpreting what we listen to’ saw Deepa Dhanraj, Vrunda Pathare, Meena Menon and Dr. Indira Chowdhury speaking on the oral history practice in India.
The conference concluded with a special lecture by Alessandro Portelli on ‘They Say in Harlan County: Thirty Years of Field work’, where he shared his experiences of working as an oral historian from Italy researching on a community’s history in the state of Kentucky in the US. The conference was followed by the annual general body meeting of OHAI to which Dr. Miroslav Vanek was invited to participate. Dr Vanek shared his experience of organizing the IOHA Conference in Prague in 2010. Dr. Vanek’s words of encouragement together with the enthusiasm of OHAI members lead to OHAI’s decision to bid for India as the venue of the IOHA Conference in 2016.
Dr. Suroopa Mukherjee, Vice President, OHAI
Piyusha Chatterjee, Joint Secretary, OHAI
The inaugural events of the Oral History Association of India were held in July 2013