Closing Round of the Series of Keep the History Workshops

Workshop "Keep the History"
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Working in groups

Seven Months after the first meeting of 14 Georgian researchers within the workshop on oral history methodology the results of the project were presented at the Europe House in Tbilisi on November 11, 2014.

The event took place in frames of the Keep the History project by the South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation in cooperation with the International Society Memorial. In the preface of the presentation the Regional Office hosted three rounds of the workshops led by experienced trainers from the International Society Memorial: Ms. Irina Shcherbakova (head of the educational programs of the International Society Memorial), Ms. Alena Kozlova (director of the archives of the International Society Memorial) and Ms. Irina Ostrovskaya (researcher at the Centre of Oral Histories of the International Society Memorial).

In the course of the workshops the participants were introduced to essential research methods of oral history. Under the guidance of the trainers the researchers designed and realized six independent research projects:

  • Psychiatrists in Georgia during the Soviet period – Anna Arganashvili
  • Tbilisi in dolor – civil movement against the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Giorgievsky Treaty – Nino and Teona Bekishvili
  • Margaret Thatcher in Tbilisi: the iron lady behind the iron curtain – Levan Goguadze, Tornike Mamatsashvili and David Kopaliani
  • Libraries as an instrument of ideology – Giga Khositashvili
  • The unknown story of repressed Poles – Maka Khutsishvili
  • Civil movement against the Transcaucasian Railroad – Tamta Tatarashvili

The workshop’s closing round focused on the personal experience of the participants during the realization of their first oral history project:

Giga Khositashvili concluded: “Documents and newspaper articles can’t give a complete picture of the past. Oral history gives an insight into daily life of historical protagonists.”

“In April I imagined the upcoming task to be much easier than it turned out to be,” said Tamta Tatarashvili. “I actually had good experiences with interviewing within a film project. Back then the women kept on talking for the duration of two hours after just one initiative question. This time my interview partner reacted completely different. It was quite difficult to bring him out of his shell. By hindsight I am glad that I realized the interview. I have heard about the case of my research project already in school. My respondent added a personal and emotional perspective on the topic. By that oral history supports the comprehension of the past.”

Nino Bekishvili suggested the origin of the respondent as a possible influence on her or his talkativeness. Other participants named the profession, age or gender as influencing factors. Also private reasons can discourage people to talk about themselves.

Anna Arganashvili pointed out a dilemma every researcher has to cope with referring to alive persons as a source: “Publishing certain information could endanger the respondent. That’s why clear agreements between the researcher and the interview partner are required.”

Maka Khutsishvili used the workshop on oral history in preparation of her PhD project. “Entering the house of my respondent I was excited as I found an important source for my research. In Georgia we know very little about our country’s soviet past. The field is just started to be studied. Due to that it is a challenge to find reliable information. My interview partner was very interested in my questions himself and I got to know valuable details. During the workshop I gained helpful practical and theoretical knowledge about oral history methods that I am going to use for my further research,” Maka concluded.

Levan Goguadze mentioned the time-consuming transcription and the detailed analysis of the interview as a surprising lengthy procedure. Nevertheless he is planning to use oral history methods for his PhD research. He used a metaphor to summarize his impression: “The facts are the skeletons of history. Oral history adds flesh and blood.”

Irina Shcherbakova encouraged the researchers, “Witnesses are one of the most difficult sources historians are dealing with. You can never predict whether you will gain the results you are looking for. At the same time oral history is a significant addition to archive research.”

On November 11 the participants of the project presented their research to an audience of 30 interested specialists at the Europe House in Tbilisi.