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.
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.
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».
The first interviews in Great Britain for the «People’s Archive» are conducted by Māra Zirnīte.
Interviews in Latvia with the older generation, whose memories are not to be found in written historical sources.
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.
«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).
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.
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.
Cooperation in the Nordplus programme: becoming acquainted with partners in Sweden and Norway.
The «Life-story in Vārkava» field-work with the participation of folklore students (University of Latvia), NOH researchers, foreign supporters and colleagues.
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.
Cooperation of life-story researchers in the Nordplus programme:
The «Latvians in Great Britain» field-work, conducted with the support of the Latvian Foundation in 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.
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.
Baltic and Nordic cooperation in the Nordplus programme: