A place for oral history within Translation Studies?

Julie McDonough Dolmaya

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.

Table of contents

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.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Andrews, Molly
1995 “A Monoglot Abroad: Working Through the Problems of Translation.” Oral History 23 (2): 47–50.Google Scholar
Asadi, Paula, and Candace Séguinot
2005 “Shortcuts, Strategies and General Patterns in a Process Study of Nine Professionals.” Meta 50 (2): 522–547. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
[ p. 211 ]
Baker, Mona
2005 “Narratives in and of Translation.” SKASE Journal of Translation and Interpretation 1 (1): 4–13.Google Scholar
2006aTranslation and Conflict: A Narrative Account. London: Routledge. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2006b “Translation and Activism: Emerging Patterns of Narrative Community.” The Massachusetts Review 47 (3): 462–484.Google Scholar
Bauman, Richard
1986Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ben-Ari, Nitsa
2008 “Popular Mass Production in the Periphery: Socio-political Tendencies in Subversive Translation.” In Beyond Descriptive Translation Studies: Investigations in Homage to Gideon Toury, ed. by Anthony Pym, Miriam Shlesinger, and Daniel Simeoni, 1–18. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Boéri, Julie, and Carol Maier
2010Translation/Interpreting and Social Activism. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Borland, Katherine
2006 “ ‘That’s Not What I Said’: Interpretive Conflict in Oral Narrative Research.” In The Oral History Reader.2nd ed., ed. by Robert Perks and Alistair Thompson, 310–321. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Buzelin, Hélène
2007 “Translations ‘in the Making.’” In Constructing a Sociology of Translation, ed. by Michaela Wolf and Alexandra Fukari, 135–170. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Cave, Mark
2008 “Through Hell and High Water: New Orleans, August 29–September 15, 2005.” Oral History Review 35 (1): 1–10. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Chesterman, Andrew
2009 “The Name and Nature of Translator Studies.” Hermes: Journal of Language and Communication Studies 42 (2): 13–22.Google Scholar
Córdoba Serrano, María Sierra
2007 “La fiction québécoise traduite en Espagne: une question de réseaux.” Meta 52 (4): 763–792. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2010 “Translation as a Measure of Literary Domination: The Case of Quebec Literature Translated in Spain (1974-2004).” MonTI 2: 249–281. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Cummins, Sarah
2005 “Marie-Andrée Clermont: au-délà de l’engagement.” In Whitfield 2005, 189–218.Google Scholar
Delisle, Jean
ed 1999Potrait de traducteurs. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
ed 2002Portrait de traductrices. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Di Leonardo, Micaela
1987 “Oral History as Ethnographic Encounter.” The Oral History Review 15 (1): 1–20. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dwyer, Jim
2011 “Secret Archive of Ulster Troubles Faces Subpoena.” New York Times, May 13. http://​www​.nytimes​.com​/2011​/05​/13​/world​/europe​/13ireland​.html​?hpGoogle Scholar
Everett, Jane
2006 “Joyce Marshall, or the Accidental Translator.” In Whitfield 2006, 53–74.Google Scholar
Frisch, Michael
1990A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
2003 “Sharing Authority: Oral History and the Collaborative Process.” Oral History Review 30 (1): 111–113. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gagnon, Chantal
2006 “Language Plurality as Power Struggle, or: Translating Politics in Canada.” Target 18 (1): 69–90. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2010 “When Text and Translation Production Meet: Translation in the Prime Minster’s Office.” In Political Discourse, Media and Translation, ed. by Christina Schäffner and Susan Bassnett, 164–177. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
[ p. 212 ]
Gentzler, Edwin, and Maria Tymoczko
eds 2002Translation and Power. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
Gluck, Sherna Berger, and Daphne Patai
eds 1991Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Green, James
2000Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
High, Steven
2009 “Sharing Authority: An Introduction.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 43 (1): 12–34.Google Scholar
High, Steven, and David Sworn
2009 “After the Interview: The Interpretive Challenges of Oral History Video Indexing.” Digital Studies/Le champ numérique 1 (2). http://​www​.digitalstudies​.org​/ojs​/index​.php​/digital​_studies​/article​/view​/173​/215. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hoffman, Alice M., and Howard S. Hoffman
1994 “Reliability and Validity in Oral History: The Case for Memory.” In Memory and History: Essays on Recalling and Interpreting Experience, ed. by Jaclyn Jeffrey and Glenace Edwall, 107–130. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
Inghelleri, Moira, and Sue-Ann Harding
eds 2010Translation and Violent Conflict. Special issue of The Translator 16 (2). Manchester: St. Jerome. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
James, Daniel
2000Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory and Political Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Jarvis-Tonus, Jill
1992 “Legal Issues Regarding Oral Histories.” Canadian Oral History Journal 12: 18–24.Google Scholar
Koskinen, Kaisa
2008Translating Institutions: An Ethnographic Study of EU Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Ladouceur, Louise
2006 “Les voix de la marge: Tennessee Williams et Michel Tremblay.” TTR 19 (1): 15–30. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lane-Mercier, Gillian
2005 “Jean Simard, ‘l’impeccable ouvrier d’une seule chose bien faite.’” In Whitfield 2005, 127–188.Google Scholar
Layman, Leonore
2009 “Reticence in Oral History Interviews.” Oral History Review 36 (2): 207–230. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Leblanc, Mathieu
2013 “Translators on Translation Memory (TM). Results of an Ethnographic Study in Three Translation Services and Agencies.” Translation & Interpreting 5 (2): 1–13.Google Scholar
McKenna, Yvonne
2003 “Sisterhood? Exploring Power Relations in the Collection of Oral History.” Oral History 31 (1): 65–72.Google Scholar
Miller, Donald Earl, and Lorna Touryan Miller
1993Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Montreal Life Stories
Morrissey, Charles T
1984 “Riding A Mule Through The ‘Terminological Jungle’: Oral History and Problems of Nomenclature.” Oral History Review 12: 13–28. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Mossop, Brian
2006 “Has Computerization Changed Translation?Meta 51 (4): 787–805. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Nutting, Stephanie
2006 “On D. G. Jones and Translating Outside.” In Whitfield 2006, 107–138.Google Scholar
Office of News and Public Affairs
2012 “University Files Appeal in Belfast Project Case.” The Boston College Chronicle, March 1. http://​www​.bc​.edu​/content​/bc​/publications​/chronicle​/FeaturesNewsTopstories​/2012​/news​/appeal030112​.htmlGoogle Scholar
[ p. 213 ]
Oral History Society
2009 “Practical Advice: Getting Started.” http://​www​.oralhistory​.org​.uk​/advice​/index​.php
Portelli, Alessandro
1991The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
Pym, Anthony
1998Method in Translation History. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Reeves-Ellington, Barbara
1999 “Responsibility with Loyalty: Oral History Texts in Translation.” Target 11 (1): 103–129. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ritchie, Donald A
1994 “Foreword.” In Memory and History: Essays on Recalling and Interpreting Experience, ed. by Jaclyn Jeffrey and Glenace Edwall, v–ix. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
2003Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Ritchie, Donald A., Holly Cowan Shulman, Richard S. Kirkendall, and Terry L. Birdwhistell
1991 “Interviews as Historical Evidence: A Discussion of New Standards of Documentation and Access.” The History Teacher 24 (2): 223–238. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Romalis, Coleman
1992 “Political Volatility and Historical Accounts: Tiptoeing through Contested Ground.” Oral History Forum 12: 25–29.Google Scholar
Santoyo, Julio-César
2006 “Blank Spaces in the History of Translation.” In Charting the Future of Translation History, ed. by Georges L. Bastin and Paul F. Bandia, 11–44. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Sheftel, Anna, and Stacey Zembrycki
2010 “Only Human: A Reflection on the Ethical and Methodological Challenges of Working with ‘Difficult’ Stories.” Oral History Review 37 (2): 191–214. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Simon, Sherry
1989L’inscription sociale de la traduction au Québec. Quebec: Office de la langue française.Google Scholar
Takeda, Kayoko
2010Interpreting the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal: A Sociopolitical Analysis. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Temple, Bogusia
2013 “Casting a Wider Net: Reflecting on Translation in Oral History.” Oral History 41 (2): 100–109.Google Scholar
Thompson, Paul
2000The Voice of the Past: Oral History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Thomson, Alistair
1998 “Unreliable Memories? The Use and Abuse of Oral History.” In Historical Controversies and Historians, ed. by William Lamont, 23–34. London: UCL Press.Google Scholar
Tymoczko, Maria
2000 “Translation and Political Engagement: Activism, Social Change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shifts.” The Translator 6 (1): 23–47. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wheeler, Norton
2008 “Cross-lingual Oral History Interviewing in China: Confronting the Methodological Challenges.” Oral History 36 (1): 56–68.Google Scholar
Whitfield, Agnes
ed. 2005Le métier du double: Portraits de traductrices et traducteurs littéraires. Montréal: Fides.Google Scholar
ed. 2006Writing Between the Lines: Portraits of Canadian Anglophone Translators. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.Google Scholar
Yow, Valerie Raleigh
1994Recording Oral History: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
2015Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
[ p. 214 ]
Zembrzycki, Stacey
2009 “Sharing Authority with Baba.” The Journal of Canadian Studies 43 (1): 219–238. DOI logoGoogle Scholar