OHA Comes to Montreal in 2018

For the second time in its history, the Oral History Association will be crossing an international border for its annual meeting. That’s right: the OHA is coming to Montreal, Québec, Canada, October 10-14, 2018! The conference will be hosted by Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) right on the downtown campus.

Located on unceeded Kanien’kehá:ka traditional territory, and founded by the French in 1642, Montreal is widely acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in North America. Today, Montreal is a culturally and linguistically diverse global city with more than 20% of its residents born outside of the country. Many have fled war, genocide and political repression in their homelands. It is also the second largest French-speaking city in the world, just behind Paris. It is not unusual for urban households to speak three languages, mine certainly does.

Situated in the heart of the downtown core, Concordia University is a major English-language public post-secondary institution with its roots in the YMCA’s Adult Education Department. Concordia continues to have a strong commitment to community-engaged research as well as arts-based and digital “research-creation” (a term that we use in Quebec to acknowledge the variety of creative forms that research can take). Today, Concordia has one of the most diverse student-bodies of any university in Canada. Its perspective is global.

Montreal’s large and diverse oral history community is very much looking forward to hosting you in 2018. An interdisciplinary research unit of Concordia, COHDS is home to a vibrant community of faculty, students, artists, educators, filmmakers, heritage groups, and other community members. Among its past projects was Montreal Life Stories which recorded the life stories of 500 Montrealers displaced by large scale violence and then integrated these stories into online digital stories, live performances, art installations, audio walks, animated and documentary film, a museum exhibition, and other public outcomes. Current projects include  Lost Stories (https://loststories.ca/ ), the Right to the City (https://righttothecity.atwaterlibrary.ca/ ), MapCollab (https://mapcollab.org/ ), and the Living Archives of the Rwandan Diaspora. For more on the work of COHDS, visit https://storytelling.concordia.ca . The Concordia University Library is also heavily investing in oral history, as it is in the process of establishing itself as a national repository for “temporal media” (especially digital oral history, literary audio, and field recordings). One of the great challenges that we face as oral historians is how to ethically and creatively work with archived audio or video interviews and how to (re-)connect these stories with their source communities.

No discussion of oral history in Montreal would be complete without mention of community-based organizations. The Centre d’histoire de Montréal (CHM), the city museum, for example, has placed oral history at the heart of its interpretation for years. Its cutting-edge virtual and in-situ exhibitions have won a number of national and international prizes, including the OHA’s museum prize. Another leading oral history institution is the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC), which works closely with survivor communities in the curation of their stories. Arts based groups such as Porte Parole, a prize winning documentary theatre company led by Annabel Soutar, and Rahul Varma’s Teesri Duniya Theatre, are at the forefront of oral history performance. In fact, Concordia just welcomed its new Canada Research Chair in Oral History Performance, Luis Sotelo-Castro, whose theatrical work engages with stories of mass violence in Columbia and elsewhere. Several survivor organizations in Montreal have also had a sustained engagement with oral history interviewing and curation, such as Page-Rwanda and the Centre Khemera, representing the survivors of the 1994 genocide and the Khmer Rouge respectively.

Given our expansive work at the intersections of oral history and performance, the visual arts, digital and place-based storytelling, and participatory media – we feel that the 2018 OHA Annual Meeting is a good opportunity to think outside the box in terms of how oral history research can be creatively shared and practiced. Concordia has therefore agreed to invest $25,000 in cash (plus free meeting rooms and wifi) to help place the OHA conference in Montreal with a rich program of oral history performance, audio walks, and other arts-based work.  We feel it is important that OHA members get the opportunity to engage with the living history of our city during your visit. Everyone here is also looking forward to being inspired by all of your great work in October 2018. These “mutual encounters” (to borrow a telling phrase from Alessandro Portelli) are what oral history is all about!

Finally, I should say that there are dozens of restaurants within a block or two of the conference site and a number of hotels and a youth hostel within a short 5-10 minute walk. Montreal is served by direct flights from across the United States and Canada and those coming from the US will have the advantage of a US dollar currently worth 1.29 CDN.

À bientôt.

Steven High
Professor of History and Co-Founder of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling


For the past three years, students in oral history, theatre, art history, and art education have engaged with the neighbourhood of Point Saint-Charles and with each other. Photograph by David Ward.

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