What Is Oral History?

Oral history is a methodology that emerged particularly since the 1960s, and which focuses on the importance to the writing of history of life story narratives of individuals based on memory. History writing based on archival research has been enriched by this attention to ordinary people, everyday life and subjectivity supported by the development of voice recording technologies. The goal of oral history is to create an archive by recording individuals’ life story narratives using audio or video. Depending on the research interests of the oral historian, this archive constitutes the basis for products written about a particular historical event or topic. An individual, family, community, neighborhood or region may be the focus of oral history research. Until relatively recently, oral history archives mostly included voice recordings which were used to produce written texts. Today, new technologies make it possible to create myriad multimedia products. Debates on poststructuralism brought issues such as identity, narrative, memory and subjectivity to the fore, leading, along with the emergence of new technologies, to great interest in oral history in recent decades. While oral history research is relatively new in Turkey, there is great potential. Recent interest in popular culture and academia in individual testimony and oral history methodology is linked to Turkey’s painful experience with democratization and the need to come to terms with the country’s multicultural past. With its focus on the subjectivities of ordinary people, oral history can contribute to current debates on cultural identity and democratization whether in academia or in the public sphere. Family history, village and neighborhood history are increasingly studied using oral history, making possible the writing of the history of everyday life. In addition to their contribution to social science research, such projects can also be transformative within the politics of everyday life.

Oral History at Sabancı University

The aim of this website is to showcase Sabancı University student research in oral history. Sabancı University undergraduate and graduate students conduct research in oral history in Cultural Studies 361/561: Oral History, a course regularly offered every Fall semester. In addition, Sabancı University undergraduate and graduate students conduct research in oral history as research assistants in international and national projects directed by Sabancı University faculty. Selections from oral history interviews by students are organized here by topic.

A Sabanci University Student Reflects on Oral History

Mert İzcan was a student at the Sabancı University Cultural Studies Program, who conducted his oral history interview with an activist female student born in 1983, whom he met on the internet via friends. The excitement of talking with someone he didn’t know did not prevent Mert from questioning oral history. He shared the most challenging parts of his work with us, since “he could not betray the moment that the narrator reveals her soul.” Mert: “Why do I want to conduct this interview? Maybe I am also running away from life. I feel like the main purpose of oral history is to reconcile with the past and give meaning to it. To reconcile with the child that I was alienated from due to the things I object to. I can listen to the story of the ruptures, but I cannot understand her. One of the things I am concerned about is determining the flow of the conversation. I must be a listener. I must let her carry me away. But we should draw pictures in the places where she brings me. Where can we stay, and for how long? Will she let me wander around there? I must forget what everyone else says. I should not be afraid of being myself. Of breathing… There is nothing else that I can do other than being good in the moment.”