I don't have a form fetishism :-) although I highly prefer written to
oral sources for many practical reasons. You know that in oral history
projects the transcription is an essential part of the work, by the
What I am pointing to is the difference between primary sources and
secondary sources. It is the utmost important distinction in history
science. I am sure that any introduction to historiography will agree
with me on that.
2011/7/27 Achal Prabhala <aprabhala(a)gmail.com>om>:
On Wednesday 27 July 2011 09:38 PM, Ziko van Dijk wrote:
Today I found the time to read the messages about the "Oral Citations"
project and watch the film "People are Knowledge". I hope that we can
go on in this discussion without accusations about racism etc. In
science, it is the quality of the findings that should matter, not the
colour of the researcher's skin (may it be black, white, or green).
== Concerned ==
I must say that I am deeply concerned about the "Oral Citations". If
someone wants to set up a new Wikimedia project for oral traditions or
"oral history", I could live with that although I don't think that it
fits into the scope of Wikimedia. It certainly does not fit into the
scope of Wikipedia.
May I say, firstly, that this is an experiment - an experiment
those of us working on it, and others around us, thought might lead to
interesting results. Secondly, may I also say that the project is not on
"oral history" - it's on using oral sources as citations.
The film says that recorded "oral
history" should be considered to be
a reliable souce "when there are some accessible printed sources on a
subjet, but the sources are incomplete or misleading by way of being
outdated or biased". So, when someone believes that those "accessible
printed sources" are "biased", he comes up with the video of his grand
uncle telling the truth?
== Problems of orality (of the human brain) ==
The film presents some carefully selected scholars supporting the film
makers' opinion, but if you ask the huge majority of historians they
will explain to you why they are so reluctant about "oral history".
Obviously, the scholars and intellectuals we talked to were selected. We
don't pretend otherwise. I am personally not privy to what the "majority
of historians" think. But on that note - this project was about using
oral citations as sources, not about re-writing history. If you will
please take a look at the subjects we covered through the course of this
experiment, you will see that they are: recipes, religious ceremonies,
traditional liquor and folk games. All of these things relate to
everyday events that are practised by a large number of people and can
be observed by anyone....
Take an example described by Johannes Fried,
Memorik, p. 215: The
Gonja in Northern Ghana told to British colonial officials that there
once was the founder of their empire, Ndewura Japka. He had seven
sons, each of them mentioned by name, and each of them administered
one of the seven provinces of the Gonja empire.
Then the British reformed the administration, and only five provinces
remained. Decennias later, when the British rule ended, scholars asked
the people again about the history of Ndewura Japka. Now, the founder
had only five sons. Those two sons, whose provinces were abolished by
the British, were totally erased from memory, if British colonial
records had not preseved their names.
....and none of the articles thus created
are about rewriting the
history of the last few centuries or undoing the work of the academy. We
are simply interested in these subjects because they are part of the
everyday life of millions of people like us, and because they haven't
been recorded in print in a form that is useful to Wikipedia.
I myself have interviewed people who claimed that
they did not write a
peticular letter (which I found in the archives), that they met a
person at a peticular convention (although the person did not
participate at all) and so on. These people may not be liars, but
memory is flexible and unstable. By nature, man is not created to be a
historian, to preserve carefully information in his brain, but to deal
with the actual world he lives in.
== The way of historiography ==
* Historians collect primary sources and try to create a sound and
coherent narrative based on them. Those primary sources are written
records in archives, or already in printed or online editions, or
* Then the historians publish their findings in secondary sources.
* Later, text-book and handbook authors read those secondary sources
and create their tertiary sources. Wikipedia is such a tertiary
It is not the task of Wikipedians or even readers to be confronted
with the mass of primary sources and figure out a good synthesis. That
is a work that must be let to scholars (in the largest sence) who have
a good overview on the subject.
I don't think that anything in this project
suggests otherwise. The
system on Wikipedia (including a respect of traditionally published
history) works. It doesn't work, however, for large parts of the world,
and that is something you seem to agree with. Given the everyday aspects
of life that we've run oral citation experiments with here, you might
agree that the experts on recipes would be people who cook; that the
experts on traditional liquor might be the women who make and drink it.
So it isn't clear why "scholars" are necessarily the last word on all
subjects of knowledge - currently, on Wikipedia, even we acknowledge
various levels of expertise outside the academia, for instance, journalists.
Printed books may not be the answer in poor
countries, but maybe
e-publishing is, and there are certainly at least some places on the
internet that are suitable for new primary and also secondary sources.
Wikipedia cannot solve all problems in the world, and even Wikimedia
I'm simplifying your question here, but I think we must consider what
- to some extent - a fetish with form. If I turned all the audio
interviews we recorded into "e-books" (in itself, simply a matter of
transcribing them, putting them in a pdf file and uploading them
somewhere on the www) - how would that alter the basis of the source?
Thank you - my response here is in the spirit of discussion, as we
believe there is something useful to take away from this project.
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