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.
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outdated or biased".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".
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.
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.
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
Dr. Ziko van Dijk