June 25th, 2024

Oral History Summer Institute aims to empower story teller and listener

By Tim Kalinowski on July 8, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The University of Lethbridge recently wrapped up its first Oral History Summer Institute which had a diverse group of participants gathering virtually for six weeks to talk about traditional ways of knowing and exploring the revolutionary power of storytelling.
The Summer Institute was hosted by the U of L’s Centre for Oral History and Tradition, and gathered about 40 students from across North America, many of them Indigenous, to listen to and work with a panel of Indigenous oral historians.
“We had a wide range of experience and knowledge of practitioners of oral history in the room,” explains Carol Williams, outgoing director of the Centre for Oral History and Tradition, and a professor of history in the Department of Women and Gender Studies. “One of the famous categorizations of history is that the winners, and those in power, have the control of the telling of history or writing history.
“So oral history as a method of gathering stories and narratives, and community experiences has a long (tradition). In many Indigenous communities orality is the primary form of exchanging narratives about history, community, and spirituality.”
Williams says telling oral history stories not credited or included in mainstream histories can itself be a revolutionary act.
“Oral history is understood in current scholarship is history from the bottom up as opposed to the top down,” Williams explains. “It might record the stories of those that are conventionally not in control in writing history, or don’t have access to writing and publishing history.”
The ultimate goal of the Summer Institute was empowerment of both the individuals telling their stories and those listening to them, Williams says.
“It’s what is missing from official documents of history,” she states.
This year students in financial need attending the Oral History Summer Institute, which Williams hopes will turn into a yearly offering at the U of L, had their expenses paid for by matching donations from Williams, incoming Centre for Oral History Tradition director Carly Adams, and the Mastercard Foundation. Advancement and Scholarships at the university also helped pay for other costs associated with the Summer Institute, says Williams.

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