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Wor(l)ds of Czech Oral History (1990-2015)

A Couple of Historiographical Remarks
Pavel Mücke

Résumés

Cet article décrit comment l’histoire orale a été établie en tant que discipline en République tchèque. Il fait état des évènements, institutions et personnes clés qui ont permis cette émergence et la popularisation de l’histoire contemporaine à travers l’histoire orale. La description de plusieurs projets représentatifs, menés dans des contextes académiques et non académiques, permet de comprendre leurs contextes historiques et méthodologiques ainsi que leur réception dans le milieu de la recherche et dans les médias.

This article gives the general contours of the way in which Oral History was established as a discipline in the Czech Republic. Important events and key institutions are mentioned, as well as individuals interested in the research of contemporary history, and in the popularization of the recent past through oral history. Significant projects (both academic and non-academic) are described. Attention is paid to the thematic, historical, and methodological aspects of these projects, and the way in which other scholars and the media have reacted to these projects is discussed.

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1. Introduction

  • * This article was created with the support of the Czech Grant Agency’s grant project: „Malé“ a „velk (...)
  • 1 The term “Oral History” was promoted for the first time in the Czech historical community in the jo (...)
  • 2 For example, the most experienced Czech researcher and one of the “founding fathers” of oral histor (...)
  • 3 See e.g. Pavel Mücke, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Czech Oral History (1990-2012). Oral History Jou (...)

1In Czech scholarly* discussion the term “oral history” has become a very common phrase. Two decades ago, however, it was totally unknown.1 The growing popularity of this discipline can be seen as developing hand in hand with the expansion of other very popular fields across Europe and around the world – Contemporary History and Memory Studies. Nowadays, as a result of increasing public interest in the preservation of life stories, a wide range of different institutions, associations, individuals and especially oral history projects (both ongoing and complete) can be found in the Czech Republic. Research activities in this small Central European country, inhabited by ten million people, are benefitting from institutional, methodological and technical support which is getting stronger by the year and, seemingly paradoxically, stronger representation in the international oral history movement.2 I have already published a more detailed study about the development of oral history in previous articles ; in this short historiographical essay, I would like to outline the basic and the latest view on national specifics of oral history in the Czech Republic.3 On the other hand, I would like to highlight points which share, I think, many common characteristics with the establishment of oral history in other countries, in Europe or in world-wide perspective.

2Last, but not least, I should underline that this short essay can be also a short personal impression. Since a year 2001, when I was a participant of the first oral history course realized on Czech, Moravian and Silesian universities (during my M.A. studies of history, on Palacky University in Olomouc), I can feel as one of the active protagonist (and later witness) in field of oral history in Czech Republic. Despite my effort to be such objective as possible, I know that in some perspectives I still feel like a “subjective actor”. However a factor of subjectivity and the personal engagement is always present in oral history research and it is a necessary component of these activities in general.

2. Public Sphere and Research Ground in Czech Republic after 1989

  • 4 See more in this collection: Jindřich Schwippel and Jan Boháček, Pamětníci a spolutvůrci dějin ČSAV (...)
  • 5 Martin Nodl, “Možné přístupy ke studiu dějin české historické vědy v letech 1945–2000” [“Possible a (...)

3While “prehistoric” traces of oral history can be found in the Czech lands before the Velvet Revolution in 1989 (especially in the very popular and positivistic “work with witnesses” carried out during the 1950s and 1960s), the real oral history development began after the fall of the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia and with the (re)establishment of freedom of speech and freedom of research.4 As was the case with other countries which felt the rule of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes (like in Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa or Latin America) the development of the method and discipline in the Czech lands is closely related to the era of democratic transformation, re-establishing of plurality of memories and looking for a “deal with the past” through contemporary history research.5 Many historians working in the field of contemporary history were aware that the previous era left a lot of “gaps” which were not possible to fill with traditional historical sources (archive records, daily press and journals, memoirs, personal correspondence etc.) because of indebt to the ideology of the communist regime or because of clear “non-existence” of available materials. There were also subjective reasons behind this evolution, because progressive Czech historians, who were for many years isolated from their profession’s international standards ; started to absorb the latest trends and useful methods in historiography bit by bit. It took until around the mid-1990s for at least some researchers to pick up a general knowledge of oral history and memory studies from foreign books and articles (mainly English and German and less, but also, from French origin) and for them to overcome “traditional” historical doubts about new methods and finally to take the first steps towards experimenting with the new approach in practical Czech research.

  • 6 A similar organizational structure was used in similar institutions in Western Europe like the Inst (...)
  • 7 E.g. the first director of the ICH, Vilém Prečan, was exiled in the German Federal Republic, as was (...)
  • 8 See Bartošek´s contribution in Stéphane Courtois (ed.) : Le livre noir du communisme : crimes, terr (...)

4For academic development of contemporary history domain, in January 1990, the Institute for Contemporary History [ICH] was founded as one part of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (later the Czech Academy of Sciences – CAS). Inspired by similar institutions in Western Europe, the institute’s main raison d’être was to document contemporary events systematically and to conduct active and complex research into Czech and Czechoslovak contemporary history with a focus on the period between the years 1945 and 1989.6 If we analyze the retrospective testimony of employees and the published output from the ICH from early 1990, it can be seen that most major activities were done by an older generation of historians (“the 1968 generation”) who were discriminated against by the communist regime during the 1970s and 1980s, and/or active in dissent or exile.7 Among the new research collaborators, the un-formal “intermediary” to French academic sphere was a historian exiled in 1980s in France who was affiliated until 1996 to the Institut d´histoire du temps présent (IHTP), Karel Bartošek ; he was an expert of history of communism and Stalinist political trials of the 1950s.8 These experienced research leaders started to be followed by younger members joining the institute in the months and years following its creation.

  • 9 For a historiographical and methodological analysis of “work with witnesses” see Vaněk, Orální hist (...)
  • 10 Milan Otáhal, interview with author, May 5, 2011; Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 2 (...)
  • 11 Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 25, 2011.
  • 12 Dana Musilová, e-mail correspondence with author, July 25 and August 3 2011.

5It should be pointed out that, despite a slightly weak knowledge of oral history methodology, practical methods, technical aspects and international context of research in the early 1990s, it cannot be stated these projects lacked precedent. Czech researchers often tended towards older and more familiar “work with witnesses”, conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, a symbolic precursor of the development of Oral History. In the framework of this discursive practice, the interviews were used in an objectivistic style as a supplementary source in historical writing.9 Analysis of interviews with several of the protagonists suggests that the motivation behind working with interviewees came from an interest in getting impressions, explanations or commentary to support facts that they, as historians, already knew from other (especially written) sources.10 Analyzing several interviews with participants leads us to believe that the aforementioned projects were not systematically coordinated, neither in the ICH, nor elsewhere around the whole republic. On the contrary, they were led independently in parallel with each other, and the interested researchers knew the results of other projects only after the fact, and often by chance.11 As a symbol of the pioneering times of Oral History, several researchers had to save the interviews they conducted in their own personal collections and provisional archives, because during 1990s it was not possible to give them to authorized archival institutions for wider research and public use.12 From a retrospective point of view, it seems very positive that during the early 1990s, projects that recorded important personal testimonies aroused broader interest, not only among interested researchers, but also among the public. This fact seems a very important source for growth in the future.

  • 13 See ICH, minutes of meetings of the ICH Scientific Committee, meetings of April 21, 1995 and Novemb (...)
  • 14 See “The Malach Centre for Visual History,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://ufal.mff.cuni. (...)

6If we look at the development of an academic institutional base, the symbolic “year one” for Czech oral history was 2000, when the Oral History Center [OHC] was established as one of the ICH’s departments. The ICH Scientific Council symbolically approved this proposal at a meeting held on “the date of the revolution,” November 17, 1999, and the direction of the OHC was handed to historian Miroslav Vaněk.13 Although there was no institutional boom – like in 1950s and 1960s U.S.A., where several universities started to create oral history centers – during later years several centers were established on academic field, which were specialized on research, archiving or education in the oral history domain. One of most important and visible centers was the Malach Centre for Visual History (created in 2010 as a part of Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University, Prague), which was providing a “national” online access to the entire collection of the Shoah Foundation documentary project (inspired by Steven Spielberg) ; this collection is preserved in the archives of the University of Southern California.14

7Because during 1990s the oral history started to play an important role especially out of academic research institutes and universities, like in other countries very strong position holds the “documenting oral history” in several Czech, Moravian and Silesian museums. These institutions like the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Terezín Memorial and later also in the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno started to record and preserve mainly interviews with witnesses of World War Two, especially with Shoah and holocaust survivors.15 Among specialized archiving institution it is important to mention the department of the National Film Archive in Prague, where interviews are being recorded with protagonists who were active in the development of Czech cinematography over the past two centuries in different professions and levels of responsibility (such as directors, scriptwriters, playwrights, cameramen, producers, film editors, actors, and other supporting professions).16

  • 17 Among more controversial groups (e.g. because of several cases of non-ethical interviewing and inte (...)
  • 18 See Pavla Frýdlová, ed., Všechny naše včerejšky I, II, III: Paměť žen [All Our Pasts I, II, III. Me (...)

8A “memory boom” after 1989 also derived to creation of several civic activist groups and “memory associations” who started (mainly after 2000) to interview several “unknown” historical protagonists of the 20th Century, some of them in scientific and serious ways, some in more controversial ways.17 Among the first ones I can mention the internationally recognized Czech civic association “Gender Studies”, which is bridging oral history and feminist studies and trying to capture the main contours of three generations of Czech women’s life experiences.18

3. Trends and Oral History Projects

  • 19 For the sociological use of oral history and biographies, see Zdeněk Konopásek, ed., Otevřená minul (...)
  • 20 See Dokumenty, mládež & společnost, “Dcery padesátých let,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http: (...)
  • 21 The creation of a full-text database with a keyword search function for the collected interviews se (...)

9As we have just seen, the oral history (and biographical research) development was not only the affair of historiography, but also of other domains –like archive studies, sociology, ethnology, folkloristics, anthropology, linguistics, literary science, German, Jewish and Roma studies, theatre studies, film and audiovisual studies, political science, law, psychology etc. – which for years continuously contributed to the enrichment of interdisciplinary common ground of knowledge. On the other side it should be underlined again that many of these qualitative research projects, dealing with interviews, were conducted in parallel (especially during 1990s) and without immediate knowing each other.19 After 2000 and the mid-2000s oral history research and dissemination in the Czech Republic have become more and more popular and this trend expanded through public space and it started to be used by several other groups, academic institutions, universities, civic associations and individuals. Among the most successful and visible in international perspective I can mention the response to public demand for recordings of and initiatives to publicize the life stories of Czechoslovak political prisoners from the Stalinist 1950s, the producer and documentarist Zuzana Dražilová worked to gather oral history interviews. Upon the request of the civic association called “Daughters of 1950s”, she started a project with her team called “Documents, Youth and Society” which recorded memories of daughters who remembered the persecution of their parents at the hands of the communist regime. A documentary movie based on this project was finally honored by the European Commission’s “Golden Star” prize in 2008.20 For a long time now, oral history has been used in a wide, interdisciplinary manner by several research teams at the Institute of Film and Audiovisual culture, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University in Brno. This is due to support at the level of the institution’s directors (led by Jiří Voráč, an ex-interviewee from the aforementioned project “Students during the Period of Communism’s Fall”). Among others, a unique historical-documentation project called “Film Brno” should be mentioned. The project is directed by Pavel Skopal and Petr Sczepanik, who tried to analyse local popular film culture and its place in the history of everyday life after 1945 through interviews led with filmmakers and viewers.21

  • 22 The edition was conceived as a successor to the “Black Book,” an edition of contemporary documentat (...)
  • 23 See e.g. Dana Musilová, Životní příběh ročníku 1924. Lidský osud v dějinách 20. století. Historicko (...)

10Coming back to the past, to the field of historiography and to the case of IHC projects, the “prehistory” of oral history began in this early post-revolutionary period as part of democratic transformation, a book of documents was published and accompanied by the transcripts of recorded interviews with the “founding fathers” of the Civic Forum and with select communist civil servants. This so-called “White Book,” published by historians and editors Milan Otáhal and Zdeněk Sládek in 1990, was the first attempt to map the recent events of the Velvet Revolution and deal with them in historical terms.22 Generally the accent on observing “great events” through the frame of “individual stories” can be seen as a common aspect of first “proto” oral history projects in early 1990s, and this pattern remained a visible constant throughout projects which followed.23

  • 24 See ICH, minutes from the meeting of the ICH’s Department for the History of 1969–1989, meeting of (...)
  • 25 For their methodological inspiration, Miroslav Vaněk and Milan Otáhal used foreign books by Steinar (...)

11In the spring of 1995, an IHC grant proposal focusing on university students (actors of the Velvet Revolution) was submitted to the Czech Grant Agency for a three-year project called “Students in the Period of the Fall of Communism.”24 The decision to support this project can be seen as the turning-point in the development of oral history not only in the ICH, but in the wider context of the whole Czech Republic. Results of the research project (the main final output in book form was called One Hundred Student Revolutions) conducted under the direction of Miroslav Vaněk and Milan Otáhal, who tried to map all the life stories of November 1989 students, was found to be very fruitful and inspiring. Project investigators were attempting for the first time to use oral history in accordance with international standards, and despite criticism they also decided to include into their research the regional aspects, which from a more recent perspective seems to be very important.25 Selected outputs were continuously disseminated in the research community and in the wider public ; they were also shared through mass media. In personal and organizational terms, the establishment of close contacts with collaborators in the region was a valuable step, especially because long-term collaboration was instituted with some of them.

  • 26 Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 28, 2011.
  • 27 See Miroslav Vaněk and Pavel Urbášek, eds., Vítězové? Poražení? Politické elity a disent v období t (...)
  • 28 For the main resultant publications see Vaněk and Urbášek, Vítězové? Poražení?; see also Miroslav V (...)

12The next project undertaken by the OHC, ultimately called “Political Elites and Dissidents in the Period of so-called Normalisation – Historical Interviews,” proposed by Miroslav Vaněk and Palacký University (Olomouc) archivist, Pavel Urbášek, was inspired by the “White Book” documentary project. Not all colleagues supported the planned realization of the project, especially as it aimed to “give a voice” to ex-Communist functionaries.26 For the first time, the research team included a Czecho-Slovak aspect due to collaboration with a partner research team led by historian and ethnologist Lucia Seglová. Slovak colleagues, supported by the George Soros´s Open Society Found, undertook parallel research on the same methodological basis with narrators around the Slovak Republic.27 Among the most significant methodological specifics, the process of contacting the narrators should be mentioned here – in particular the process of approaching ex-communist functionaries, where the key role was played by the gatekeeper, sociologist František Zich, himself an ex-communist functionary. His intermediation was greatly appreciated by team collaborators in retrospect because it was crucial in the successful approach of 43 of a total of 73 functionaries addressed and recording their stories. Also because the project team strictly respected all oral history professional, ethical and legislative standards, the final results surpassed all previous expectations.28

  • 29 The main form in which the results were published, a three-volume book called Ordinary People…?!, c (...)
  • 30 See Petra Schindler-Wisten, “Společenské aspekty chalupářské subkultury v období tzv. normalizace” (...)
  • 31 See Miroslav Vaněk and Lenka Krátká (eds.) : Příběhy (ne) obyčejných profesí : česká společnost v o (...)
  • 32 See Miroslav Vaněk and Pavel Mücke : Velvet Revolutions : An Oral History of Czech Society. Oxford- (...)

13Following OHC projects have meant on the one side continuity in doing oral history of several socio-political groups active in Czech/Czechoslovak contemporary history after 1945, on the other hand it was a sign of historiographical “shift” from “historical elites” towards “everyday life history of silent majority” and in a wider perspective, to “history of society”. The first in this trend was a project called “An Investigation into Czech Society during the ‘Normalization’ Era: The Biographical Narratives of Workers and the Intelligentsia,” which was conducted between 2006 and 2008 (principal investigator Miroslav Vaněk).29 Other smaller and “additional” projects realized in the same period were aimed to historical and historic-anthropology of everyday life and leisure history urban subcultures in Czech society before 1989.30 The most recent OHC project is a five-year initiative called “Czech Society in the Period of so-called Normalisation and Transformation,” running between 2011 and 2015, which also continues to build upon previous research. Among the main aims, the OHC planned to map other historically “invisible” groups in Czech society, namely employees in the service industry, members of the armed forces (soldiers, policemen, firemen), managers in enterprise and agricultural workers.31 In the second phase, the research team shifted its attention towards reinterpreting all of the OHC’s interviews with members of different groups and will focus on writing a synthesis interpreting the historical experience of Czech society and “change of values” over the last forty years.32

4. Building Oral History Community

  • 33 From visible individuals realizing oral history projects e. g. Doubravka Olšáková (ed.): Niky české (...)
  • 34 See Miroslav Vaněk, Přemysl Houda and Pavel Mücke, eds., Deset let na cestě. Orální historie na Sov (...)

14Although the Czech research ground is in many ways similar to other communities in Europe and America – including a very visible presence of active individuals (with institutional affiliation), independent scholars (without institutional background) and freelance writers –, the incoming boom of oral history research projects (mainly after 2000) also started to generate a collaborative networks and a “reservoir” of team members, who participated in new project.33 Notably as a “side product” of the OHC’s research into “elites and dissent,” an annual meeting aimed at researchers and “supporters” (mainly university students) of several oral history approaches was inaugurated. These semi-formal meetings, often with international participation, have been held at Sovinec Castle since 2002. Discussion covers not just different projects’ concrete results, but also general issues deriving from the practice of oral history (like conducting interviews, ethical or legal aspects, archival possibilities, dissemination etc.) After a decade these legendary meetings, perched on the castle walls, have more than ever become an open platform for lively discussion among different people (like historians, anthropologists, archivists, political scientists, ethnologists, lawyers, theatre and literary scholars, journalists, NGO workers etc.) and a symbolic place where the Czech oral history community is built on the basis of democratic equality, of fair collegiality, and often on the basis of friendships.34 On behalf of these meetings increasing number of people started to identify themselves – more or less – with oral history use across the regions, domains and institutions.

  • 35 See “Oral History Department,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.fhs.cuni.cz/ohsd/.
  • 36 See Doporučení MŠMT k výuce dějin 20. století [Recommendation from Ministery of Education to learni (...)

15This process described above was also accompanied by several educational activities, which were notably realized due to great effort and pedagogical enthusiasm “spiritus movens” of Czech oral history, Miroslav Vaněk as graduated of M.A. in teaching history. At his initiative, as a result of his recent experience teaching at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the first oral history university courses began in the Czech Republic since 2001. At the Collegium Hieronymi Pragensis, a college for U.S. foreign students, later for Czech students in Palacky University in Olomouc and finally for domestic students in Charles University in Prague a new generation of students with basic knowledge of oral history methods grew during years. Since 2008, because of the very positive response to his courses on Faculty of Humanities, and thanks to the support of the faculty’s administration, a new and unique M.A. program was launched, called “Oral History and Contemporary History” (taught in Czech or in English). Till the end of year 2015, this program boasted of 100 graduates and more than 100 active students in process of their studies.35 It can be generally stated that since 2000s every year the total number of B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. theses based on oral history methods written at universities around the Czech Republic is growing. What is also hopeful for the future is the fact that the use of oral history is not rare at a secondary or even primary school level and since 2009 it is also officially approved by Czech Ministry of Education as recommended method for innovative teaching and learning contemporary history.36

  • 37 It should be noted that the spiritus movens of Czech Oral History, Miroslav Vaněk, enthusiastic aft (...)
  • 38 5th biannual COHA conference (after České Budějovice in 2009, 2011 in Nečtiny u Plzně, 2013 in Pard (...)

16The culmination of long-term efforts to integrate the community came when the Czech Oral History Association (COHA), a national platform for support, propagation and dissemination of oral history in the Czech countries, was founded in January 2007.37 Since 2009 COHA started to organize bi-annual “national” conferences in oral history (with traditional invitation of key speakers from abroad), which accomplish the variety of event platforms in Czech oral history community.38 In contrast to neighboring Central European countries like Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, where there were, for different reasons, still no such national oral history associations, the Czech oral history community benefits from a solid position and from a basis of 15 institutional and 60 individual COHA members.

5. Ways of Internationalization

  • 39 E.g. dealing with the concepts of memory (like M. Halbwachs, P. Nora, A. Portelli, L. Passerini) or (...)

17As it was already pointed out above, Czech oral history did not grow up in “vacuum” without keeping in touch with international milieu of the oral history movement abound the world. After 1989 these contacts were realized for many years on direct and indirect forms. Less visible “import of knowledge” were e. g. representing by study of secondary sources of abroad origin, where dominated books, journals and articles authored by English and German speaking authors (like Paul Thompson, Steinar Kvale, Rob Perks and Alistair Thomson, Lutz Niethammer, Herward Vorländer, Donald A. Ritchie, Willa Baum or David K. Dunaway). French, Spanish or Portuguese printed studies were used very rarely because of limited ability of these language competencies, or they came to the scope of Czech researchers later – through translations or through interest of younger generation of scholars who were more familiar with these “non-Anglo-Saxon” concepts and outputs.39

  • 40 Concerning primary research, the OHC focused upon the history of different social groups from the 1 (...)
  • 41 To support the development of oral history education, the OHC in collaboration with Collegium Hiero (...)
  • 42 In the development of his growing career in the field of Oral History, Miroslav Vaněk attributes gr (...)

18 Direct contacts were realized through several research trips abroad, via invitations of well-known lecturers to home ground or during international conferences and meetings on oral history which, since 2000s started to be attended by Czech scholars very regularly (e. g. Oral History Association Annual Meetings in U.S.A., European Social Science History Conferences organized biannually around Europe or also biannual International Oral History Association congresses). Among the ideas and patterns from abroad implemented in the scientific milieu of Czech Republic I can mention the personal experience of Oldřich Tůma (later director of ICH) with huge oral history programs and collections, when he was visiting the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Institute in Budapest during early 1990s. He recognized the oral history development as very useful and later he greatly supported the creation of OHC in 2000. After its establishing, aside from being active in primary research, collections building and the subsequent necessities of archiving these materials, an important role was to foster international relations with partner institutions, to educate, and to promote in different forms oral history in the Czech Republic.40 Due to the OHC’s foreign contacts, Czech oral history methodology was formed under the influence of Western (especially U.S.) methodological inspirations. The development of international relations brought not only necessary “know-how”, but also financial aid when, after Miroslav Vaněk’s stay in the United States, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill donated a support scholarship to the OHC, which furnished the Centre with the necessary technical and material equipment.41 As Miroslav Vaněk noted after some years, without these contacts the OHC’s research activities would have been less wealthy, if indeed they did exist in any relevant form.42

  • 43 Among participants’ feedback see Alexander Freund, “Conference Report,” (report of the 16th Interna (...)
  • 44 After successful presentation of panel (visited by more than 200 attendees in auditorium), the main (...)

19For the matrix of several facts, like having an institutional background, a financial support, and the relevant project outputs, to have a chance and opportunity to present, to discuss and finally to have abroad feedback, the visibility (and also prestige) of Czech oral history was growing year by year. All of the protagonists of the Czech oral history movement were greatly honored by the decision taken by the IOHA Council, approved by the General Assembly at the 15th IOHA Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, in September 2008. This favorable decision meant that the next opportunity to meet would be in Prague in July 2010. For the first time in IOHA history, the 16th Conference was visited by more than 500 delegates from 57 countries from each continent. The conference program was scheduled to span over nine concurrent sessions, in which a total of 434 papers were presented. The proverbial cherry on the 16th IOHA Conference cake was the election of Miroslav Vaněk as the President of IOHA between 2010 and 2012.43 Around one decade catapulted Czech protagonists (namely Miroslav Vaněk) among the global leaders of oral history such as Czech oral history as respectful and internationally recognized community. Their representatives started to be invited for several oral history conferences, workshops, meetings and teaching/research stays (like in Denmark, Slovenia, Russia, India, China or Kazakhstan), where they can do a symbolic “repay” of previous support from abroad colleagues, to generate again the impact of their oral history approach and to share Czech experience with abroad public. Another step was realized with the help of Czech colleagues – “non-oral historians” on the basis of International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS), when in August 2015, during the XXII Congress held in Jinan (China), an evening session scoped to oral history was organized. It was officially for the first time in the history of this event, that an oral history panel was included to the program.44

  • 45 From domestic projects with international scope see e. g. “Antifa Documentation,” n.p. [cited 22 Ma (...)

20Over the years oral history has also provided great potential for international research and collaboration. Although several projects funded by Czech public, governmental, NGO or private bodies proved an ability to collaborate with abroad partners, Czech research scholar had till this time not been successful in accepting broader international projects at a European or global scale.45 Unfortunately, an idea to conduct an international project called “We lived in Socialism,” comparing the experience of “ordinary people” who experienced “communism” or “real socialism” before 1989 and then the democratic transformation around Eastern Europe (in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the former East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Croatia) has yet to be realized. This proposal was submitted by an international research consortium led by the OHC to an E.U. grant competition on three occasions (in 2008, 2009 and 2010) also as HERA project proposal “Dreaming of Europe – Living in Europe. Uses of (ex) Eastern and (ex) Western Memories in Past and Present” from 2014/2015 (with the aim to resume the “image of others” seen from the perspective of narrators living in Finland, Poland, GDR, Czech Republic and Slovakia). They have yet to succeed, however, due to the wide range of other, competing “cultural events” and “social and humanities” project proposals in E.U. research area. In any case, if some kind of international project proposal would succeed, it should mean a great research (and also symbolical) success and a new challenge (not only) for the field of Czech oral history.

Conclusion

21In conclusion it can be said that oral history in the Czech Republic experienced some hectic years. Dealing with many doubts, experiencing many failures, worrying about results and experiencing feelings of disappointment were all part of the journey. But oral historians in the Czech Republic also defended the discipline’s existence, created institutions, disseminated numerous results, established many contacts (and friendships) and felt a lot of joy. To make a prognosis for the future is very difficult. Should it be possible to develop the research activities mentioned here at a high standard, to maintain or better them, step by step, to increase the number of members of the oral history community and their supporters, and to continue to network successfully internationally, then oral history in the Czech Republic can expect a very hopeful future in the coming years.

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Notes

* This article was created with the support of the Czech Grant Agency’s grant project: „Malé“ a „velké“ dějiny českého/československého cestování a cestovního ruchu (1945–1989) [“Micro-histories“ and “Macro-history” of Czech/Czechoslovak Travelling and Tourism (1945–1989)] with registration number 15-08130S..

1 The term “Oral History” was promoted for the first time in the Czech historical community in the journal Soudobé dějiny [Contemporary History] from 1994, when, in an editorial, a plan to “publish edited oral history examples” was mentioned. Unfortunately, in the years which followed, the idea was not realized. Vilém Prečan, Jaký časopis, nač a pro koho, Soudobé dějiny vol. 1, No. 1 (1993/1994). p. 7.

2 For example, the most experienced Czech researcher and one of the “founding fathers” of oral history in the Czech Republic, Miroslav Vaněk, served as a member of the International Oral History Association (IOHA) Council as a representative for Europe between 2008 and 2010, between the years 2010 and 2012 he served as IOHA President, and for the years 2012–2014 he was holding the position of IOHA Past-president. Side by these elected functions, since 2014 he was nominated to the International Committee of U.S. Oral History Association (OHA) and a member of International Advisory Board of Oral History journal edited by U.K. Oral History Society (OHS). Since 2012 is an elected member of IOHA Council the author of this article.

3 See e.g. Pavel Mücke, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Czech Oral History (1990-2012). Oral History Journal of South Africa, Vol 1, No. 1 (2013), pp. 111-130.

4 See more in this collection: Jindřich Schwippel and Jan Boháček, Pamětníci a spolutvůrci dějin ČSAV. Sbírka rozhovorů v Archivu Akademie věd ČR [The witnesses and co-creators of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. A Collection of interviews in the CAS Archive]. Práce z dějin Akademie věd 3 (2011), No. 1, pp. 53-86 ; Matěj Kotalík and Jan Kahuda, Rozhovor s PhDr. Jindřichem Schwippelem” [Interview with Dr. Jindřich Schwippel]. Práce z dějin Akademie věd 3(2001), No. 1, pp. 130-143 ; Miroslav Vaněk, Orální historie ve výzkumu soudobých dějin [Oral History in contemporary history research]. Prague : Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR 2004.

5 Martin Nodl, “Možné přístupy ke studiu dějin české historické vědy v letech 1945–2000” [“Possible approaches to the study of Czech historiography between the years 1945–2000”]. Soudobé dějiny 8 (2001), No. 1, pp. 9–22 ; “Pavel Kolář, Nenápadné okovy Kleió. Východoevropské dějepisectví po pádu železné opony mezi vědeckým étosem a legitimizací panství“ [”The invisible shackles of Cleio : East European historiography after the fall of Iron Curtain between scientific ethos and legitimization”]. Soudobé dějiny 11(2004), No. 1–2, pp. 224–230 ; Bohumil Jiroušek et al, Proměny diskurzu české marxistické historiografie [The Metamorphosis of discourse in Czech Marxist historiography]. České Budějovice : HÚ FF Jihočeská univerzita v Českých Budějovicích 2008.

6 A similar organizational structure was used in similar institutions in Western Europe like the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich (Germany), L’Institut d’histoire du temps présent in Paris (France) or Instituut voor sociale Geschiedenis in Amsterdam (Netherlands).

7 E.g. the first director of the ICH, Vilém Prečan, was exiled in the German Federal Republic, as was the spiritus movens of the ICH Karel Kaplan. The first vice-director, Pavel Seifter, and another very active member of the “founding father” generation, Milan Otáhal, were signatories of Charter 77 and active in dissent. The first chief of the ICH’s scientific council, Karel Jech, and the council’s vice-director later, Jindřich Pecka, were fired from their jobs in 1968 and had to work as manual workers.

8 See Bartošek´s contribution in Stéphane Courtois (ed.) : Le livre noir du communisme : crimes, terreur et répression. Paris : Laffont 1997.

9 For a historiographical and methodological analysis of “work with witnesses” see Vaněk, Orální historie ve výzkumu soudobých dějin, 39–47.

10 Milan Otáhal, interview with author, May 5, 2011; Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 25, 2011.

11 Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 25, 2011.

12 Dana Musilová, e-mail correspondence with author, July 25 and August 3 2011.

13 See ICH, minutes of meetings of the ICH Scientific Committee, meetings of April 21, 1995 and November 17, 1999. Oldřich Tůma, interview with author, June 21, 2011.

14 See “The Malach Centre for Visual History,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://ufal.mff.cuni.cz/cvhm/.

15 See the “Jewish Museum in Prague,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/cz/czarchivho.php; see also the “Terezín Memorial,” n.p. [cited 21 May 2013]. Online: http://www.pamatnik-terezin.cz/cz/historie-sbirky-a-vyzkum/sbirky/dokumentacni-oddeleni; see also the “Museum of Romani Culture,” n.p. [cited 21 May 2013]. Online: http://www.rommuz.cz/.

16 See the “The National Film Archive in Prague,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.nfa.cz/oralni-historie.html.

17 Among more controversial groups (e.g. because of several cases of non-ethical interviewing and interviews using and dissemination) I can mention well-known association Post Bellum and portal Memory of Nation. See more in Miroslav Vaněk : Sběrači, lovci a “vědecký” antikomunismus... aneb o některých problémech orální historie při výzkumu naší nedávné historie. [Collectors, hunters and “Scientific anti-Communism”… or about some problems of oral history during the investigation of our recent history] Příběh je základ... a lidé příběhy potřebují... aneb Teoretické a praktické aspekty orální historie : sborník příspěvků z konference. České Budějovice : Jihočeské muzeum 2010, s. 21–30.

18 See Pavla Frýdlová, ed., Všechny naše včerejšky I, II, III: Paměť žen [All Our Pasts I, II, III. Memory of Women]. Prague : Nadace Gender Studies 2002 ; see also Zuzana Kiczková et al. : Pamäť žien – O skúsenosti sebautvárania v biografických rozhovorech [Memory of Women. About Experience of Self-Creation in Biographical Interviews]. Bratislava : IRIS 2006.

19 For the sociological use of oral history and biographies, see Zdeněk Konopásek, ed., Otevřená minulost: Autobiografická sociologie státního socialismu [Opened Past: An Autobiographical Sociology of State Socialism]. Prague : Karolinum 1999 ; see also Martin Hájek and Jiří Kabele, Jak vládli ? Průvodce hierarchiemi reálného socialismu [How Did They Rule ? A Guide to the Hierarchies of Real Socialism]. Brno : Doplněk, 2008. For the ethnological use of oral history, see Jana Nosková, Reemigrace a usídlování volyňských Čechů v interpretacích aktérů a odborné literatury [The Re-emigration and Settlement of Volhynian Czechs through the Interpretations of Protagonists and through Secondary Sources]. Brno : Ústav evropské etnologie 2007 ; for a political science approach see .Lukáš Valeš, Listopad 89 v Klatovech. Klatovy v přelomových letech 1989–1990 [November ’89 in Klatovy. Klatovy in the Crucial Years 1989–1990]. Klatovy : AgAkcent, 2005.

20 See Dokumenty, mládež & společnost, “Dcery padesátých let,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.dmska.eu/nase-projekty/dcery-50let.htm.

21 The creation of a full-text database with a keyword search function for the collected interviews seems to be a very positive step. See “Filmové Brno,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.phil.muni.cz/filmovebrno/?id=103.

22 The edition was conceived as a successor to the “Black Book,” an edition of contemporary documentation which criticized the Occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact Armies. This publication was edited by historians Milan Otáhal and Vilém Prečan following August 1968. Milan Otáhal and Zdeněk Sládek (eds.), Deset pražských dnů 17.–27. listopad 1989. Dokumentace [Ten Prague Days, November 17–27, 1989. Documentation]. Prague : Academia 1990, p. 555.

23 See e.g. Dana Musilová, Životní příběh ročníku 1924. Lidský osud v dějinách 20. století. Historicko-biografický výzkum [Life Story of the Class of 1924 in the 20th Century. Historical-biographical research]. Prague : Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR 1995 ; Květa Jechová, Lidé Charty 77. Zpráva o biografickém výzkumu. [People of Charter 77. A report from biographical research] Prague : Ústav pro soudobé dějiny. 2003 ; Miroslav Vaněk, Listopadové události roku 1989 v Plzni [The events of November 1989 in Pilsen]. In : E. Mandler, Dvě desetiletí před listopadem 89 : Sborník. Prague : Maxdorf 1993, pp. 93–109 ; Jiří Suk, K prosazení kandidatury Václava Havla na úřad prezidenta v prosinci 1989 : Dokumenty a svědectví” [On the candidature of Václav Havel in the presidential election of December 1989 : Documents and testinomies]. Soudobé dějiny 6 (1999), No. 2–3, pp. 346–369.

24 See ICH, minutes from the meeting of the ICH’s Department for the History of 1969–1989, meeting of December 5, 1994 and April 12, 1995. See also ICH, minutes from the Meeting of the ICH Scientific Committee, meeting of May 23, 1995. Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, June 17, 2011.

25 For their methodological inspiration, Miroslav Vaněk and Milan Otáhal used foreign books by Steinar Kvale, Paul Thompson, Herward Vorländer, Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, Jürgen Straub and Peter Salner, for example. See Milan Otáhal and Miroslav Vaněk, Sto studentských revolucí : Studenti v období pádu komunismu životopisná vyprávěn [One Hundred Student Revolutions : Students in the Era of the Fall of Communism. Biographical Interviews]. Prague : NLN, 1999, pp. 31–52.

26 Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 28, 2011.

27 See Miroslav Vaněk and Pavel Urbášek, eds., Vítězové? Poražení? Politické elity a disent v období tzv. normalizace. Životopisná interview [Victors ? Vanquished ? Political Elites and Dissent in the Era of so-called Normalisation. Biographical Interviews]. Prague : Prostor 2005, vol. 1, p. 19.

28 For the main resultant publications see Vaněk and Urbášek, Vítězové? Poražení?; see also Miroslav Vaněk, ed., Mocní? a bezmocní? Politické elity a disent v období tzv. normalizace. Interpretační studie životopisných interview [Powerful ? Helpless ? Political Elites and Dissent in the Era of so-called Normalisation. Intepretations of Life-Story Interviews]. Prague : Prostor 2006. Some years later, a summary of the project was included in a prestigious oral history guide. See Miroslav Vaněk, “Those Who Prevailed And Those Were Replaced : Interviewing On Both Sides of A Conflict,” in : Donald A. Ritchie (ed.) : The Oxford Handbook Of Oral History. Oxford – New York : Oxford University Press 2011, pp. 37–50.

29 The main form in which the results were published, a three-volume book called Ordinary People…?!, combined interpretations with 40 representative interviews in edited form. See Miroslav Vaněk, ed., Obyčejní lidé…?! Pohled do života tzv. mlčící většiny. Životopisná vyprávění příslušníků dělnických profesí a inteligence [Ordinary People… ? ! Insight into the Lives of the so-called Silent Majority. Biographical interviews] (Prague : Academia 2009).

30 See Petra Schindler-Wisten, “Společenské aspekty chalupářské subkultury v období tzv. normalizace” [The Social Aspects of Cottage Culture in the Study of Everyday Life during the Era of so-called Normalization]. Ph.D. dissertation. Prague : Charles University 2010 ; see Miroslav Vaněk, Byl to jenom rock’n’roll ? Hudební alternativa v komunistickém Československu 1956–1989 [Was it Only Rock and Roll ? Alternative Music in Communist Czechoslovakia 1956–1989]. Prague : Academia 2010.

31 See Miroslav Vaněk and Lenka Krátká (eds.) : Příběhy (ne) obyčejných profesí : česká společnost v období tzv. normalizace a transformace. Praha : Karolinum 2014.

32 See Miroslav Vaněk and Pavel Mücke : Velvet Revolutions : An Oral History of Czech Society. Oxford-New York : Oxford University Press 2016.

33 From visible individuals realizing oral history projects e. g. Doubravka Olšáková (ed.): Niky české historiografie. Uherskobrodská symposia J. A. Komenského v ofenzivě (1971–1989) [Niches of Czech Historiography. J. A. Komenský Symposia on the Offensive]. Červený Kostelec : Pavel Mervart 2012 ; also see Martin Jemelka (ed.) : Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny [People from Colonies Talk about their History]. Ostrava : Repronis 2009 ; see Radek Diestler : Modrá a bílá, kluci jedem. 44 vyprávění plzeňských hokejistů o sobě, hokeji a době. [Blue and white, guys, go on ! 44 stories of Pilsen ice hockey players about themselves, about hockey and about their times]. Plzeň : Regionall 2014.

34 See Miroslav Vaněk, Přemysl Houda and Pavel Mücke, eds., Deset let na cestě. Orální historie na Sovinci (2002–2011) [Ten Years on the Way : Oral History at Sovinec Castle]. (Prague : Charles University, 2011).

35 See “Oral History Department,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.fhs.cuni.cz/ohsd/.

36 See Doporučení MŠMT k výuce dějin 20. století [Recommendation from Ministery of Education to learning 20th Century history]. [cited 22 November 2015]. Online: http://www.msmt.cz/file/12159_1_1/ From secondary education outputs see e. g. Lukáš Dulíček, Jan Hutla and Roman Ruffer, Dějiny Gymnázia J. K. Tyla v období totality očima pamětníků [History of J. K. Tyl High School in the Era of Totality through the Eyes of the Narrators]. Hradec Králové : Gymnázium J. K. Tyla 2008.

37 It should be noted that the spiritus movens of Czech Oral History, Miroslav Vaněk, enthusiastic after his return from the 14th IOHA Confernce in Sydney in Summer 2006, inspired his colleagues to the extent that, in January 2007, the Czech Oral History Association was finally founded. See “COHA,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online: http://www.oralhistory.cz.

38 5th biannual COHA conference (after České Budějovice in 2009, 2011 in Nečtiny u Plzně, 2013 in Pardubice and 2015 in Ostrava) is planned to be held in Moravian metropole, Brno, for 2017.

39 E.g. dealing with the concepts of memory (like M. Halbwachs, P. Nora, A. Portelli, L. Passerini) or concepts of “witness era” as a key factor of contemporary history (D. Voldman) were these cases.

40 Concerning primary research, the OHC focused upon the history of different social groups from the 1970s and 1980s, especially political elites, dissidents, members of the young generation, workers, the intelligentsia. Furthermore, it researched the history of Czech exile and emigration, the phenomenon of cottage-ownership/ summerhouses in communist Czechoslovakia etc. See Miroslav Vaněk, “Centrum orální historie Ústavu pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR” [Oral History Center, ICH, Czech Academy of Sciences], Soudobé dějiny 9/2 (2002) : 332–336.

41 To support the development of oral history education, the OHC in collaboration with Collegium Hieronymi Pragensis, an American college for U.S. students studying a “semester abroad,” obtained a Burch Scholarship from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill amounting to 10,000 USD. Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 28, 2011.

42 In the development of his growing career in the field of Oral History, Miroslav Vaněk attributes great importance to his two long-term stays in the United States (in 2000 and 2004). Equally, he cites several conference presentations and informal consultations at multiple Oral History Association meetings. Miroslav Vaněk, interview with author, February 28, 2011.

43 Among participants’ feedback see Alexander Freund, “Conference Report,” (report of the 16th International Oral History Conference, Prague, 7–11 July 2010), 1–8. Cited 22 May 2013. Online: http://www.oralhistoryforum.ca/index.php/ohf/article/view/379/450; see also Alison McDougall, “16th International Oral History Conference. Between Past and Future : Oral History Memory and Meaning,” Word of Mouth (Spring 2010) : 14–15 and 22–23.

44 After successful presentation of panel (visited by more than 200 attendees in auditorium), the main organizer, Miroslav Vaněk, was asked by the ICHS President, Marjatta Hietala, to initiate a creation of International Committee of Oral History (as a specialized commission of ICHS).

45 From domestic projects with international scope see e. g. “Antifa Documentation,” n.p. [cited 22 May 2013]. Online : http://www.afa-dokumentace.usd.cas.cz. See also David Weber and Barbora Čermáková, eds., Československu věrni zůstali. Životopisné rozhovory s německými antifašisty [They Remained faithful to Czechoslovakia : Life Stories with German Antifascists]. Prague : Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, 2008 ; see also Alena Wagnerová, ed., A zapomenutí vejdeme do dějin… Němci proti Hitlerovi : Životní příběhy německých odpůrců nacismu v Československu [And Forgotten We Enter into History… Germans Against Hitler. Life Stories of German Antifascists in Czechoslovakia]. Prague : NLN, 2010 ; see also Lukáš Valeš, ed., Česko-rakouské souvislosti pražského jara [The Czech-Austrian Context of the Prague Spring 1968]. Klatovy : AgAkcent – Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, 2008.

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Pavel Mücke, « Wor(l)ds of Czech Oral History (1990-2015) », Bulletin de l'AFAS [En ligne], 43 | 2017, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2017, consulté le 22 août 2017. URL : http://afas.revues.org/3049 ; DOI : 10.4000/afas.3049

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Pavel Mücke

Oral History Center, Institute for Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague (mucke@usd.cas.cz)

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Bulletin de l'AFAS. Sonorités

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