Retas Sejarah

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Indeks / "Methods"

Who knows what the army did with them there – what was clear was that the trucks went off fully loaded and came back empty (Pipit Rochijat, “Am I PKI or Non-PKI”, 1985).

In his wonderful, now classic essay “The Death of Luigi Trastulli,” Alessandro Portelli compares newspaper accounts of the police firing upon a crowd of street demonstrators in a small town in Italy in 1949 with the social memory of that killing. He finds the memories of the town’s working class community, which has eulogized the victim of that shooting in songs and stories, to be in error. Instead of using oral history to figure out “what really happened,” Portelli uses it to think about why people have misremembered the past. Portelli’s later book, The Order Has Been Carried Out, follows a similar procedure. It relies on written records to establish the facticity of an event: German troops occupying Rome in 1944 massacred 355 people as a collective punishment for an attack by the resistance that claimed 32 soldiers.

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Oral history is a technique with its very own history (see Thompson, 1988). It is regularly defined in this era as some variation of, “the recorded reminiscences of a person who has first hand knowledge of any number of experiences.” In reviewing the literature, I have discovered seventy definitions of oral history, many of which are overlapping. For ease of understanding this paper, the notion of recording participants’ memories in some form seems to fit. Early in the last century, oral history focused on interviewing elite persons such as generals, famous artists or scientists, great leaders of nations, or anyone who surfaced as distinctive within a given community. At the same time local individuals who had a strong memory of a town, city, state, or region were sometimes seen as knowledgeable in terms of historical events. Thus, it is helpful to view oral history itself on a continuum. On one end, the most sophisticated individual elite may be interviewed, while on the other end we have the most ordinary everyday citizen. Each has much to tell us as we come to understand society in all its complexity.

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