ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Oral Traditions and Contemporary History

Oral history raises questions about the relationship between subjectivity and history – particularly the role memory plays in understanding what historical events mean to human subjects who experience them. Beginning its investigation with a performance and painting tradition that is still living, this article asks in what ways oral traditions – songs and performances – can be used as resources to understand the relationship between history and memory. It demonstrates the ways in which oral tradition and oral history might converge and map out a distinct relationship between experience and memory, and thus point towards a different understanding of events and their interpretations.

I would like to thank the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology for providing me with the opportunity to teach a course alongside a family of patachitrakars in November 2011. I would like to thank the students whose enthusiasm for this form of storytelling animated the course. I thank Tara Kini, Deeksha Nagar, Rohini Sen, Ramesh Kalkur, and Ravindranath, who taught with me. Presentations of my work on the patachitrakars were made at the ASA 2012 Conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; at the IOHA 2012 conference at Buenos Aires; and at the Oral History Summer Institute at Columbia University, 2013. I thank Alessandro Portelli, Mary Marshall Clarke, Ron Grele, and the participants at all these conferences for their interventions. I thank Vivek Dhareshwar for long discussions and insightful comments.

An Italian translation of a version of this paper has been accepted for publication in Acoma: Rivista internazionale di studi nordamericani.

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