December International Blog- Scholarship Recipient reflections on Annual Meeting


Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the 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 Kiev, Ukraine

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

Unfortunately, due to visa issues, Tetiana Borka could not attend the conference. This month reports by scholarship recipients Sevil Cakir, Jo Roberts and Stacy Zembrzycki are highlighted:

Sevil Cakir

Title: Observations on the Everyday Experiences of Women in the Leftist Guerrilla Movements in Iran and Turkey in the 1970s

As a new oral historian from Turkey, I was looking for opportunities to meet more experienced oral historians to share and discuss all the questions I had in mind regarding this fascinating and revolutionary field of study. I also wanted to hear what they would think about my dissertation research project, “An Oral History of Guerrilla Women in Iran and Turkey in the 1970s.” Since the field of oral history is still in its infancy in the region that I am working on, I often feel isolated, lacking social as well as academic support from colleagues. Thus, when I saw the call for papers for the 2014 OHA conference, I thought that this would the perfect opportunity. I got even more excited and encouraged when I learned about the scholarship for international participants and decided to submit a proposal right away.

The conference provided me with much more than what I could have possibly asked for. I had never attended such a conference where the participants were so engaged, motivated, and openhearted. It was clear from the first moment on that it was not only sharing similar research interests, but also ideals, principles, and the spirit of activism which brought people together under the umbrella of a research method at the OHA conference. I truly felt at home. Attending numerous sessions on a wide range of topics from women’s activism in social movements to the role of oral history in social change made me think how lucky and right I was about choosing oral history not only as a method of study, but also as a theoretical framework. I am definitely looking forward to getting more involved in the future conferences.

Jo Roberts

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

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 Nakba, the forced exodus of some 750,00 Palestinian Arabs from the land during the war. Zochrot, a primarily Jewish Israeli NGO, challenges Israeli collective memory by working “to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public,” which, they believe, could “make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region.” 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. 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.

My paper was based on interviews and research from my recent book, Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel’s Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe. The book was a Finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards and was runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I was very grateful to receive the OHA scholarship, which enabled me to travel to the conference and present. The conference was a great opportunity to learn of the fascinating work being done by other oral historians. Thank you!

Stacy Zembrzycki

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

The roundtable in which I participated at this year’s Oral History Association (OHA) annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, titled “Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice,” had its roots in a methodology-based collection, Oral History Off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice, that I co-edited and published in Fall 2013, as part of Palgrave MacMillan’s oral history series; this anthology went on to win the OHA’s prestigious 2014 Book Award. The intent of the roundtable was to create an open and honest space in which presenters and participants could discuss and debrief about the humbling moments and failures they have all experienced in the field. We rarely, as practitioners, get a chance to publically reflect upon how these incidents impact our learning, namely the development of our craft and the honing of our skills. I am happy to report that the roundtable, composed of Janis Thiessen, Margo Shea, Sherna Berger Gluck, Anna Sheftel, and me, drew a large crowd and enabled us to collectively reflect upon a whole host of issues that rarely come up in public discourse pertaining to oral history: What happens when we don’t connect, or worse, don’t like an interviewee? How should we respond to racism and other abhorrent comments that our interviewees make? What should we do when our oral history practice threatens to replicate instead of complicate the very structures of power we hoped to challenge in our projects? And, does misinterpreting “shared authority” as “sharing authority” result in unnecessarily “humbling moments”? In other words, as Janis Thiessen asked, does awkwardness/antagonism/embarrassment require explanation and/or analysis or are we just doing our job as oral historians? These were all large and complicated issues, and although we did not arrive at any one answer, we worked together as panelists and with our audience members (who live tweeted their questions and responses throughout the session: to deeply delve into these issues, ask more questions, and ponder the particular implications of our diverse and unique set of

experiences in the field. The OHA’s International Scholarship made it possible for me to attend the meeting, participate in this incredible roundtable, and to personally accept the 2014 Book Award.

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