AJIT PATOWARY GUWAHATI, Nov 15 - “Understanding the past is important for a society to plan its future. If we can understand our contemporary history, we can plan our future developmental activities in a flawless manner. While planning developmental schemes, we need to take the past experiences of developmental activities into consideration, so that we can understand the errors made in the past and become careful in not repeating them.”
Prof Alessandro Portelli
This observation was made by noted oral history expert Prof Alessandro Portelli of the University of Rome La Sapienza, Italy. Talking to this correspondent at the two-day annual conference of the Oral History Association of India (OHAI) on public memory and oral history at Gauhati University (GU) recently, he said, “Oral history tells us as to how communities relate themselves to their past. Even if they commit mistakes in narrating the past, we may get their information corrected by gathering information from other sources”, he said.
When asked as to what are the other sources from which we can gather information to get the wrong oral history information corrected, he said that one should interview more people and examine other sources like written records etc. But he cautioned, “One should not accept anything as exclusively correct in this regard.”
“We do not accept a narrative as a correct version at its face value, nor do we accept the archived records true as such. There are so many archived records, which do not reflect what was happening at that time of preparing them, but they contain interpreted versions of the happenings,” he maintained.
When asked to explain the importance of oral history at this conflict-ridden hour of the human societies, he said oral history can make humanity remember things such as old friendship, past homogeneity, the times of peace and the price humanity had to pay for conflicts and wars in the past, which the politicians want the people to forget.
In this respect, he said that the politicians in Italy do not pay any attention to history. And when they pay attention to history, they become stereo-typed and prejudiced.
Prof Alessandro Portelli is a renowned oral historian, a noted scholar of American literature as well as a musicologist. He is a professor of Anglo-American literature at the University of Rome La Sapienza. He is known in the United States for his oral history work based on the workers’ accounts of industrial conflicts in Harlan County, Kentucky and Italian Terni.
Earlier, GU Vice Chancellor Dr Mridul Hazarika, while inaugurating the conference, suggested that the gaps in the form of silences and the absences in the written history of NE region could be made up with the help of oral history.
Prof Portelli delivered the keynote address at the function, in which the coordinator of the conference Prof Rajib Handique welcomed the guests and participants. OHAI president Prof Meeta Deka presided over the function.