A place for oral history within Translation Studies?
Julie McDonough Dolmaya
York University, Toronto
To explore how oral history methodologies could be incorporated into translation studies research, this paper begins by reviewing oral history’s approach to conducting, preserving and analyzing oral, retrospective interviews. It then examines how oral history methods could help enhance existing methodological and documentation standards in translation studies, expand the range of sources available for current and future historical studies of translators and interpreters, and enhance existing theoretical frameworks in translation studies. Particular emphasis is placed on memory and performance in oral narratives, two aspects of interviews that seem underrepresented in existing translation studies literature, and some attention is paid to how existing translation studies research could benefit oral history.
Much like translation, oral history, or the process of collecting, analyzing and preserving oral narratives, is both an ancient practice and a relatively new field of study. As Thompson (2000, 25) argues, “oral history is as old as history itself. It was the first kind of history. And it is only quite recently that skill in handling oral evidence has ceased to be one of the marks of a great historian” (original emphasis). Ritchie (2003) cites examples of oral history interviews occurring as far back as two or three thousand years ago by scribes in the Zhou dynasty in China and historians in ancient Greece (2003, 19–20), while Thompson (2000, 25–81) traces in great detail the history of oral traditions in Western Europe and the changing [ p. 193 ]attitudes toward the practice. However, oral history as a branch of (or a movement within) modern historical research, with its own research methodologies, scholarly associations, journals and programs of study, developed in the mid-twentieth century, as tape recorders became more readily available and interviews could be recorded, transcribed and then used and verified by other researchers (Thomson 1998, 24; Thompson 2000, 60–61). Thus, the Columbia University Oral History Research Office (now the Columbia Centre for Oral History), which describes itself as the oldest oral history program in the world, was established in 1948, while the Oral History Association was established in the United States in 1966 and the first issue of its journal, Oral History Review, was published in 1973. Other oral history associations sprang up throughout the 1970s and beyond: The Oral History Society, for instance, was founded in Britain in 1973, the Canadian Oral History Association in 1974, the Oral History Association of Australia in 1978, and the International Oral History Association in 1996.
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