International Committee Blog

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the upcoming OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee. This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kyiv, Ukrakine
Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey
Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada
Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada
Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

In June we featured abstracts from Tetiana Borka and Sevila Cakir. In September we featured abstracts from Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff. In this final blog about the upcoming OHA conference, we highlight abstracts by Jo Roberts and Stacy Zebrzycki.

Jo Roberts:
Title: Stepping Out of the Collective Memory: Jewish Israelis Engage with the Palestinian Nakba

Abstract: Palestine, 1948: as Britain’s colonial mandate ended, Jewish and Arab Palestinians were caught up in an increasingly brutal war. While Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, struggled towards Palestine, Arab refugees were leaving, many under duress. Out of the chaos and violence,

a new Jewish state was born. After the 1948 War, the founding story of the state that took shape in Jewish Israeli collective memory did not include the disquieting narrative of the Palestinian Arabs and their removal.

Now Zochrot, a primarily Jewish Israeli NGO, aims to change that. Zochrot “works to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public so as to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of our painful common history.”

Zochrot’s work is predicated on the power of story: allowing space for the Palestinian narrative of 1948 to emerge within the Israeli landscape, both physical and political. Its projects include mapping former Palestinian villages, and collecting testimonies from Nakba survivors. Through performative acts such as posting signs on village ruins, Zochrot “renders the Nakba in Hebrew” for a Jewish-Israeli audience.

Beneath Zochrot’s work are the stories of individuals who have not only renegotiated their understanding of their country’s history but also of their own remembered pasts. Zochrot co-founder Eitan Bronstein told me of the visceral shock he felt on discovering that the ruined crusader fortress

he had played in so often as a child had also been the site of a Palestinian market town. Such experiences have propelled him and others to do counter-cultural memory-work that, they believe, could “make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region.” Using interviews with

Bronstein and several others, this presentation will explore what motivates members of Zochrot to step outside Israeli collective memory.

Stacy Zembrzycki:
Title: Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice

Abstract: Beginning a new oral history project is always a daunting but exhilarating task. Upon entering the field, our carefully crafted methodologies quickly fall by the wayside, evolving as the people we meet bring our projects to life and make them their own.

Every encounter we have with our interviewees is unpredictable because we tend to know little to nothing about them until we sit face to face and strike up a conversation. Sometimes we connect immediately, bonding midway through a good story. In other instances, building trust takes time and occurs over a series of meetings. The potential for outright failure also looms large in these spaces. On occasion, it is difficult to find common ground with an interviewee. Informants may reveal too much or too little. Or, they reveal all and then retract their permission to use the interview. They may spend the interview assessing your right to hear their story or they may assume authority on the interviewers part that may effect change, bring closure, or result in assistance.

It is next to impossible to forget these breakdowns in communication. These moments, which some deem to be outright failures and others view as opportunities for learning, can change the direction of our projects and alter the relationships we build thereafter. This roundtable will provide an opportunity to debrief about these sorts of encounters, offering a space to explore how these experiences shape oral

historians, their interviews, and the work that results.

The format of this roundtable will be non-traditional and collaborative in nature, with the aim of

encouraging discussion amongst everyone in the room. Roundtable panelists will help to make

connections between the audience’s contributions, drawing together the general themes that arise out of people’s particular experiences and offering ways to move forward.

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