We use oral history as a qualitative research method for the study of biographical memories and life history. Sources: both narrated and written memories, diaries, letters, life-stories, life histories, personal experience narratives. The analysis of sources allows to explain the specifics of individual and collective memory, the characteristic features of the population and its groups, daily events and also the presence of generational identities, family ties, emotions, ethics and aesthetics in decisive life choices. Sources of personal memory highlight the sensitive problems of a particular time period, draw attention to hidden or distorted historical facts, give voice to the voiceless and follow current processes and trends in society. Oral history also promotes integration between social groups, between ethnically, culturally and historically diverse experiences and between generations as well as the integration of the past into the present and science into society.

«In oral history research, history is sought but culture is acquired, and a new approach to history is discovered through it.» (Renato Rosaldo)

The initiator of the scientific research of oral history in Latvia was philosopher Augusts Milts (1928–2008), under whose leadership a research approach with respect for people and ethics as a principle when approaching the analysis of memory stories was developed. Oral history research has received funding from the Latvian Council of Science since 1992.

Over the course of the research, a collection of the National Oral History (NOH) with more than 4500 memory stories was created. The word ‘national’ indicates that this collection belongs to the state of Latvia, regardless of the ethnicity, nationality or country of residence of the narrator of the memory.

Scientific research institution

The scientific project « Narrative perspectives on intergenerational transmission of memory» and NOH collection are being developed at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia.

Non-governmental organisation

To connect with the public, researchers of oral history have established the « Lifestory», Association of Latvian Oral History Researchers, which unites academic scientists and volunteers.

  • Board: Baiba Bela, Ilze Koroļeva, Māra Zirnīte
  • Cooperation partners in Latvia and abroads: Biruta Abula, Ilze Akerberga, Inese Auziņa Smita, Inta Gāle Kārpentere, Maija Hinkle, Māra Lazda, Ināra Reine, Kristīne Rubina, Maija Runce, Arta Savdona, Anita Timane, Ilze Trapenciere.

Public involvement raises awareness of the importance of biographical memories in culture and society, promotes the diversity of memory stories and contributes to the NOH collection. «Life Story» trains new interviewers, organises fieldwork expeditions and prepares the return of life stories to society through performances, events, publications and by developing cooperation with partners in Latvia and abroad.

Collection list of the NOH archive.

Photo chronicle of the NOH project

1986 Background

Interviews with the last permanent residents of Livonian village Lūžņa, Ventspils district: Alvīne and Ernests Mūrnieks, Lizete Švanenberga. With the participation of Māra Zirnīte, photographed by Vaira Strautniece. Interviews are included in the NOH catalogue. Audio and video recordings are published in audiovisual composition «The Closed Coast».

Alvīne. Photo by Vaira Strautniece, 1986
Lizete. Photo by Vaira Strautniece, 1986
Ernests. Photo by Vaira Strautniece, 1986
Ernests. Photo by Vaira Strautniece, 1986


The first interviews in Great Britain for the «People’s Archive» are conducted by Māra Zirnīte.

The Daškevica sisters arrived in the United Kingdom under the auspices of the Baltic Cygnets scheme in order to work in a hospital. Archival photo, 1947. | Arhīva foto, 1947.
Zigrīda Daškevica in her apartment in London. She is interviewed several times between 1990 and 2011.


Interviews in Latvia with the older generation, whose memories are not to be found in written historical sources.

Valērija Sieceniece, a member of the Association of Academically Educated Women founded in the pre-war period.
Ādolfs and Emma Lapenieks reveal how for many years Ādolfs’ memories of life in the prison camp and in his home in Mērsrags have been kept under the floorboards.


Launching of the long-term study «A house in Riga, Latvia». Interviews with the residents and heirs of the house built in 1936. The study is introduced by seminars led by folklorist Inta Gāle-Carpenter (USA); historian Māra Lazda (USA) joins the study later.

Inta Gāle-Carpenter from Indiana University in Bloomington participated in the preparation of the project.
Literary historian Līvija Volkova, one of the heirs of the house, at her father’s desk. Both of her parents were deported from this apartment, but she lived there for the rest of her life.


«Life-story in Latvia – 96» joint field-work with the participation of trained interviewers from abroad. By 2002, seven expeditions in Latvia had been organised, supported by the Latvian Foundation (USA).

A group of interviewers with the participation of Latvians living abroad. In the foreground: professor Augusts Milts; Maija Hinkle, project manager at the Latvian Foundation (USA); Māra Zirnīte; and Hugo Miķelsons, a participant from Canada.


The field-work to Sweden was funded by the Letonika state programme and with the support of Latvians living in Sweden. The results were published in the book « We did not go to Sweden to become Swedes», compiled by Baiba Bela.

Valentīne Lasmane introduces us to well-known Baltic linguist in Sweden Velta Rūķe-Draviņa.
Historian Uldis Ģērmanis reminds us of the importance of memories in the understanding of history. Interviewed by Baiba Bela.


The joint life-story expeditions begin with the training of the participants. At the end of the field-work, the researchers share their experiences, their first impressions and insights.

Professor Augusts Milts and life-story interviewer Biruta Abula, a participant from the United States, at the introductory seminar at the Latvian Academy of Sciences.
Augusts Milts, the scientific director of the NOH project, speaking at the seminar in the Letonica Auditorium at the University of Latvia.


Cooperation in the Nordplus programme: becoming acquainted with partners in Sweden and Norway.

Life-story researchers from Latvia look into folk-life research in the archives of the Nordisk Museum in Stockholm.
Director Knut Djupedal introduces us to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Hamar. The example set by this museum is later used in the NOH study and also for the «Latvians Abroad», museum and research centre.


The «Life-story in Vārkava» field-work with the participation of folklore students (University of Latvia), NOH researchers, foreign supporters and colleagues.

Interview with Anna Dzene, a former provider of assistance to national partisans and repressed farmer from Vārkava.


NOH interviews in Münster, Germany. A group of researchers meets with biography researchers in Germany and interviews former teachers and employees of the Münster Latvian Gymnasium.


Cooperation in the Nordplus programme.

Maija Hinkle participates in the «Memory and Narration» conference in Helsinki with a report on the study of Latvian life-stories in the United States.
Folklore repository at the Finnish Literature Society in Helsinki.
The «Life-story in Sweden» field-work: Edīte Jaunvīksna and interviewer Māra Zirnīte in Kristinehamn.
The «Life-story in Sweden» field-work: pianist Vera Puķīte and interviewer Kristīne Rubīna in Stockholm.


Cooperation of life-story researchers in the Nordplus programme:

Meeting of researchers at Södertörn University in Stockholm. | From left: Edmunds Šūpulis (Latvia), Maija Runce (Sweden), Kaspars Kļaviņš, Māra Zirnīte (Latvia).
The interview with Martins Zakuts reveals the preservation of the Kursenieki language after the fisherman’s family fled from the Curonian Spit to Sweden at the end of the Second World War.


The «Latvians in Great Britain» field-work, conducted with the support of the Latvian Foundation in Great Britain.

Getting acquainted with the oral history audio recordings in the British Library in London.
Edmunds Šūpulis after the interview with Reinhards Vītols in Tollerton, Great Britain.


On the field-work to Gotland we listen (with the help of mediators between Swedish and Latvian) to memories about the landing of Baltic refugees on the island’s shores at the close of the Second World War.

At the Regional archives in Visby, researchers of Latvian oral history become acquainted with data on the refugee boats that landed on the coast of Gotland in 1944–45.
Meeting with Elena, the heir of David Holmert’s photo archive



In cooperation with the Gotland-Baltikum Society, NOH researchers at the Almedalen Library in Visby lead a two-day seminar dedicated to memories of the Baltic refugees.

Photo exhibition from the archives of Gotland photographer David Holmert
A conversation with Pēteris Jansons, who transported refugees by boat to Gotland at the 1944-45.



Baltic and Nordic cooperation in the Nordplus programme:

Life-story researchers discovered photographs of Baltic refugees from the Second World War in the archives of Gotland photographer David Holmert. Exhibited in Stockholm, they evoked many memories.
Three generations: Inesa Millere, who fled to Sweden in a refugee boat in 1944, still speaks Latvian with her daughter and granddaughter.



Opening of the photo album « Baltic Refugees in Gotland in the Photographs of David Holmert: 1944–1945» at the Latvian National Library in Riga – the result of Baltic-Nordic cooperation.



The «Ethnic Life-Stories» project.

Interviewing a Roma family: Dana Didžus with her mother and daughter in Jelgava after the interview.
A group of interviewers after an interview with Albīne Veina in Viļaka.


Cooperation in the Nordplus programme:

Participants of the «On the Move: Migration and Diasporas» conference, Estonian Literary Museum, Tartu, Estonia, November 29 – December 1.
Vieda Skultāne’s report «Writing the Past in the Present» at the conference in Tartu (November 29).