An innovative oral history training programme led by legal academics at Queen Mary, University of London, has just been completed in the Irish border region.
Participants included staff and students of history, law and sociology from Queen Mary, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge and Dundalk Institute of Technology.
They enrolled alongside community workers, representatives from nationalist and unionist political parties, members of fraternal associations, frontline and law enforcement services, religious communities and local history networks.
The aim of the course was to transfer skills to enable people to collect and conserve their own stories of conflict and peace at various levels and over the last 50 or so years.
The training (including interview integrity procedures, processing and storing, styles and techniques, as well as relevant technical matters) set out all necessary legal, ethical and professional standards, and demonstrated how they can be embodied in practical work.
The training programme is part of the Peace Process: Layers of Meaning project, an ambitious collaboration between QM, TCD, and Dundalk Institute of Technology, supported with €1.1m from the EU’s PEACE III programme. The project is led by Professor Seán McConville and Dr Anna Bryson, both from the School of Law at QM.
The course began at Mile End where participants learned about oral history projects that have been undertaken within and between a diverse range of ethnic groups in the East End.
Further training took place at Altnaveigh House in Newry. The programme was completed last week at Dundalk Institute of Technology.
Participants reported on fieldwork undertaken in the course of the summer and progressed to advanced consideration of socially and politically sensitive interviews.
They undertook intense training in the conduct of audio-visual interviews and engaged in mock interviews with professional actors. A funding workshop led by Professor McConville gave way to guest presentations from representatives from EU and state funding bodies.
Participants also heard from a wide range of community leaders about the potential impact and dissemination of interview-based projects. These included Regina Fitzpatrick (Oral History Network of Ireland), Eamon Thornton (Drogheda Voices), Kevin Murphy (Cuimheamh), and Jonathan Mattison from Stepping Towards Reconciliation in Positive Engagement (STRIPE).
Dr Mattison stated: "The work undertaken by the Layers of Meaning Project is incredibly important - especially the production of the oral history training template for local communities and academics...Helping individuals and communities tell their story is vital, especially in the context of Northern Ireland, a country coming out of conflict, where everyone’s view needs to be taken into account. The project provides a useful template for moving forward.”
The training programme has provided the foundation for three exemplary local projects. The first is an inter-generational study of interfaith marriages; the second will involve young people from Ballynafeigh, Darkley and Dundalk in an interview-based exploration of identity and diversity; and the third will document cross-community and cross-border co-operation in farming, and will undoubtedly make a timely and valuable contribution to the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show’s new Legacy Project.
The Peace Process: Layers of Meaning project is also in the process of collecting and archiving one hundred heritage interviews with senior political figures, civil servants, and community and religious leaders involved in attempts to achieve peace over the last 40 years. The project is described in full at: www.peaceprocesshistory.org.
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