UWinnipeg oral historian earns award
The Oral History Association (OHA) has announced its award winners for 2016 and UWinnipeg’s oral historian Alexander Freund earned the Article Award for his work titled Under Storytelling’s Spell? Oral History in a Neoliberal Age that was published in the Oral History Review.
The OHA committee noted the following on Freund’s article:
“By examining the sociopolitical trajectory of the twentieth century and using the lens of neoliberalism, Freund shows how storytelling as a practice fails to take into account the very things oral historians seek out – further explorations of race, gender, class, place, status, etc. that singular stories of triumph or overcoming adversity tend to blur.”
In his article, Freund argues that storytelling enterprises frame systemic discrimination, poverty, and oppression as individual hardships. These hardships can only be overcome through people’s positive thinking, rather than through political action and changes to the economic system. This depoliticization of people’s experiences happens through a narrow focus on tellers’ and listeners’ emotional responses rather than their political actions.
Instead of helping people think critically about society, this kind of autobiographical, often confessional storytelling motivates them to see themselves alone as being in charge of and responsible for their lives. This story fits well into the neo-liberal myth that people are free to choose and act in markets that are free of any state intervention. The lesson for oral historians around the world, Freund argues, is simple yet difficult: rather than jumping on the bandwagon of storytelling, they need to critically examine the storytelling phenomenon and its impact on society as well as their own practice of oral history.
“My study of oral history as a practice in a broader historical context helps us be more critical of the unspoken assumptions lying beneath our theories and methods,” explains Freund. “The Oral History Association is one of the world’s biggest and most influential oral history associations. I am honoured and thrilled that my colleagues view my research — which calls into question some long-standing practices and dearly held beliefs in the field of oral history — as relevant and useful.”
Freund will be receiving his award in Long Beach, California this fall. Notably, Freund received the same award 20 years ago in 1996 for his first published article. Freund is UWinnipeg’s Chair in German-Canadian Studies, Professor of History and the Director of the Oral History Centre.
About the Oral History Association
Since 1966, the Oral History Association (OHA) has served as the principal membership organization for people committed to the value of oral history. OHA engages with policy makers, educators, and others to help foster best practices and encourage support for oral history and oral historians. With an international membership, OHA serves a broad and diverse audience including teachers, students, community historians, archivists, librarians, and filmmakers.
Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
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