Tag Archives: oral history

The Present is the Past of the Future

I liked the idea of creating pedagogical material for the year 2100. Although I would not have phrased the title like that – because in our small group, it fuelled discussion about what 2100 will be like, and how we would have to attune our pedagodical concept to the reality of this time. In order to prevent these sci-fi-discussions, perhaps going even further and creating pedagogical material for aliens might make sense?

Anyway, it was a good exercise to try and step out of our everyday patterns of thinking and extrapolate from concrete historical events broader significance for future generations. I also had the thought that, in times of audio- and video recordings, a lack of contemporary witnesses is not such a big problem anymore. Instead, I think being able to find relevant information in the massive amounts provided will be the real challenge.

Coming back to the task, it nicely demonstrated which questions are relevant when creating such material: Who is adressed? What is to be told? How do we create such material without simply reproducing dominant discourse(s)?

I appreciated the field trips later that afternoon. House of Democracy and Human Rights is now a well-established institution, situated in a representative building close to Alexanderplatz (the centre of former East-Berlin, and a hub of the unified city). Church from Below is basically a punk youth club, ties to the 1980s East-German opposition and, indeed, the church, being represented mostly by individuals and certain practices (decision-making by consensus, youth self organization, lived solidarity on an everyday level…).

They stand for choices oppositional movements must make, when faced with changing political realities: seize the opportunity to grow as an institution and civil society player, which comes with with the potential for broader political and social impact, but also the need for compromise. Or continue work on the grassroots level, with very little attention, but the independence to follow individual convictions?

It was great to visit both, as already the locations spoke volumes about their respective discoursive power. Preparation, in my opinion, would have been useful, to have more background upon which the monologue in House of Democracy could have been turned into a dialogue.


Bonus-points for having a fixed spot for an interims-evaluation! I think most people were glad there was the opportunity to get some things off their chest and have some time to talk about basics.

(Hi)Story Telling

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.