Today we used two slightly different, alternative ways of approaching the historical period we are dealing with.
The first way was object-centered, a kind of historical show-and-tell. This way we got very different presentations on remembrance of the cold war era in Romania, Lithuania, Italy, and Germany (and Finland, but unfortunately I did not get to hear these). For me, the approach though objects is very useful as an opener: it makes the person who brought the object reflect their own relation to the topic in question, and encourages the others to do the same. Furthermore, objects, being material and tangible, are able to draw more attention and interest than texts in books, powerpoint-presentations, or documentaries. They might also “embody” different layers of history, larger historical developments as well as personal stories, which is why the right objects can be great starting points for getting people interested in historical contexts.
Which relates to the next part of the day, the story-telling-cafe: A kind of oral history, and an interview-method at the same time, here people are encouraged to tell their personal stories in a safe space. The safety of the context is guaranteed by rules for the audience, which is not allowed to interrupt or ask questions. Obviously, this also means that there can be no questioning while the narrator is talking and presenting her very own version of history: her-story.
The method needs good moderation, to ensure that there will be adequate reflection of the presented stories, and also that the narrating person is confident to open up and present personal experiences, perceptions and ideas. Preparation is needed to make sure the audience is ready to accept everything they hear at first, with questions, replies and discussions being held back. I also think solid background knowledge is useful for the listeners to be able to put the subjective accounts into broader context.
When these things are given, I think it is a very valid method (perhaps even in connection with objects), which can add important, thought perhaps not always comfortable, aspects to historical research and advanced education. Otherwise, it might quickly turn into a debate different generations of a family might have at the kitchen table – and from my experience, these are rarely enlightening or satisfying.