The Ethics of Oral History Research in Genocide-affected Contexts with Erin Jessee

Fragments of bark and debris hung with string at varying heights against a white wall. Photo by Adam Jones, beside details of the "The Ethics of Oral History Research in Genocide-affected Contexts" webinar by Dr. Erin Jessee on May 4, 2023, co-sponsored by UBC Public Humanities, University of Victoria, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

This event is part of the Ethics of Trauma-Informed Research Webinar Mini-Series co-hosted by the University of Victoria’s Visual Storytelling and Graphic Art in Genocide and Human Rights Education project and the UBC-V Public Humanities Hub.

In this talk, I critically evaluate the celebrated ‘democratising’ potential of oral history: an interdisciplinary field that uses interviews and related methods to amplify the voices of people who are otherwise excluded from or misrepresented in official historical records and narratives. I briefly outline some of the field’s ‘best practices’ and associated benefits for reparative history initiatives, before focusing on the noteworthy challenges that these same best practices can create when working with people in genocide-affected contexts. In the process, I highlight several aspects of oral history practice that merit deeper, sustained consideration among practitioners within and beyond academia, particularly related to the potential challenges of amplifying voices that are typically excluded from the official historical narratives and the risks that can emerge for researchers and the people upon whom their research relies, including gatekeepers, research assistants (ex: translators and transcribers), and participants. While grounded in my experiences working with people from different sides of the respective genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, this talk offers potential insights for researchers who work with people in other genocide-affected contexts internationally.

Thursday, May 4, 2023
9:00-10:15 AM Pacific Time
Online via Zoom 

Register here

Speaker Bio

Fragments of bark and debris hung with string at varying heights against a white wall. Photo by Adam Jones.

Photo by Adam Jones

Erin Jessee is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where she works across the Gender History, Global History and War Studies research clusters. She has over 15 years of experience using oral historical, archival and ethnographic methods to elicit and bring into conversation people’s diverse experiences of genocide and related mass atrocities, especially in Rwanda and Bosnia. She is the author of Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History and co-editor of Researching Perpetrators of Genocide,  and has published in Medical History, Memory Studies, Conflict and Society, History in Africa, Oral History Review and Forensic Science International, among others.


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Illustration of the hands of two people outstretched reaching toward one another against watercolour background with blue hues. Logo by Miriam Libicki for SSHRC PDG, “Narrative Art and Visual Storytelling in Holocaust and Human Rights Education” at the University of Victoria Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada logo