We represent the Oral History Group of Athens
We would like to thank the program Commitee.
Our main intention is not to present our work to you but our group itself. Therefore we are going to talk about:
- its creation
- its action
- our experiences from the participation in it and
- our plans for the future
The Oral History Group of Athens
Our group has been created in June 2013 after a training seminar on the theory and methodology of Oral History and it now has 11 members, ten women and a man.
The composition of our group is perhaps interesting to the researcher as eight out of eleven are teachers in secondary education, in particular teachers of Greek language and literature, which means that we also teach Greek history. At this point we should point out that the majority of the future members of our Group are also teachers.
We are volunteers. Our group has no legal status, e.g. we are neither an association nor an NGO, nor a company etc. and we ‘ve got no financial support.
In fact we have managed to build the “teamwork” step by step by forming the conditions of our coexistence.
The group currently functions as follows:
- We meet on a monthly basis. During these meetings we report on the process of our work, we communicate and try to solve the issues we encounter, we take up duties and we always keep record of what we do by notifying all the members via group-mail.
- We have divided the group into four sub-groups. Each sub-group deals with the whole of the interviews on a thematic basis. Then the sub-group presents its work to the plenary. In that way we all get to know our informants and the subject of each sub-group; The sub-groups meet more often than the plenary based on the demands of the work.
- The above process contributed to the development of a warm and human communication and cooperation which functions as a boost that feeds us all. Through this teamwork we re-discovered the importance of natural presence of people.
- Finally we have created a website on which we upload our material.
The group works in accordance with the standards of the British Library
During the two years that our group exists we have taken 32 life interviews from inhabitants of Athens. Our digital archive also includes 15 cuts from interviews which concern the 40’s and were taken in the past by Tasoula Vervenioti for shake of her personal research. We still are in the process of taking interviews.
A copy of the digital archive has been given for safekeeping to the public library of the Municipality of Athens.
The processing of our material and the public recognition of our work
At the same time we proceeded editing the material that we gathered so far. From each interview we have selected cuts and we have grouped them into thematic categories:
- the city of Athens and its neighborhoods
- internal immigration
- work – child labor
- the 40’s: war, civil war, political events
- child’s play, entertainment
In this way our group’s work has been facilitated but also other researchers have attained access to the material. It’s a sign that the work of oral history groups has already become well known. This is why invitations concerning historical events keep coming in, giving us the chance to present our work. In the next few days we will participate in the first celebration of the liberation of the city of Athens from the occupation forces in October 1944. Actually the four Oral History Groups which are today present in this panel also participate in the celebration in order to present relevant material from our interviews.
The experience of interpreting our material
What we have gained from the interpretation of our material and the contact with the informants is the interactive relationship which is well presented by one of our members:
“I went out for my first interview certain that I knew my narrator and myself. By the end of the recording I was sure that I had learned what I didn’t know about his life. During the procession of the transcript he led me into parts of my own life, my own experiences as well as lives of others that I have met in real life or in my academic reading, in images and emotions, in ghosts and spirits, in memories and expectations. He made me constantly re-shuffle the bricks and new shapes emerged: for myself, for my narrator, for my place and for countless other things. Instantly I reposition my new self within them. And when I returned to his narrative, he had new things to tell me!”
As far as the experiences from processing the interviews are concerned, they are both cognitive and emotional. On the one side we acquire new skills while discovering the modern history of Greece which we never get to teach in school but also is suppressed due to the trauma of the Civil War and because the oral tradition in the realms of the family has been disrupted. On the other side we get moral satisfaction as we feel that we do something useful not only for us and not just for the present.
Some observations we made while processing our material:
- The same event is read in different ways by our informants.
Something that does not usually happen in the official historical records which are usually characterized by a one-dimensional perspective.
We would like to refer to an example from one of our narrators: During German occupation, he says, his father left Athens to bring oil from the area of Lakonia-Peloponnese. While his mother thought he had already died, one night he returned but with empty hands. Oil, food and figs were hidden in caves in the port of Rafina. The very next day he went back with his son and managed to pass through the German blockade. A historian would consider this incident as another example of “black marketers”, quite usual during that period. But the meaning the narrator gives in his interview is that of solidarity. He believes that his father, by risking his life, saved not only his family from famine but also “so many other families, since my mother would carry under her armpit every night a bottle of oil, 2-3 figs and would give them to anyone in need”. In this narration the phenomenon of black market loses much of its “black”.
Actually, we think that this is exactly the great contribution of oral history, bringing to light the shades of grey of the story, the nuances that exist in human acts.
- How memory of places changes in time
A woman narrates in great admiration the construction of Metaxas’ square, a large square in its time constructed by the dictator Metaxas before the war. Citizens were meeting there and next to it was a well-known playground with a pool for the children of the neighborhood. A postwar narrator, born 20 years after, refers nostalgically to the role this playground played in her life without knowing who made it. Today the square has a different name. It’s Sotiris Petroulas’ square. Petroulas was a local resident who was a politicized student and was killed during the political unrest of July 1965 that caused the conflict between the government and the palace. Today this square is important for the new inhabitants, mainly immigrants who ignore its history.
- Traumatic events not only stigmatize those who experienced them but also the future generations in various ways.
In the modern history of Greece a very traumatic event was civil war which literally stigmatized the lives and souls of people in the first postwar decades. Leftists who were not persecuted, imprisoned or exiled kept silent and advised their children to “not speak from now on!” However it is interesting to see the different ways the memory of the survivor’s works according to their lives.
We have acquired a family interview. A member of this family was a leftist rebel during the German occupation and was executed. His younger brother kept mentioning him and conveyed to his children his admiration for the deceased uncle. On the contrary the sister of the executed married to an anti-communist stubbornly denied that her brother was a guerilla. She instead insisted that he was caught “while playing football in the mountains” thus guarding her children from the “stigma”. Her own daughter, however, who was born during the civil war, is confident that her uncle “was a guerilla” and she is proud of him. Another nephew knew almost nothing about his uncle until the day of the interview, although he is an activist and a politically active person.
“The festival of oral history”
We would like to make a special reference to the “Festival of Oral History”, a conference that had been organized by the oral history groups of Athens and held on 12-13-14 June 2015. In this festival we presented a categorized and processed version from our interviews. In addition to the announcements the program included experiential and interactive activities.
This festival was an opportunity for us to share our work with the community of the city and somehow to return it to those of our narrators who could attend it.
Through this festival we realized the great interest in oral history in Greece. We also realized that we are members of a movement which is the product of the multidimensional crisis in our country over the last five years. We are a positive effect of crisis. When people’s lives are overturned they review their identity and while looking for answers to their problems they return to the past which they now face in a new perspective.
Objectives in the foreseeable future:
- Pursue of our training- elaborating the methodology, processing and use of interviews as a research tool both in history but also in other social studies
- Enrichment of the material with new interviews
- Integration of new members.
- Exploration of new possible ways of presenting our work to the public.
- Connecting with the neighborhood, the schools and the local community. In this way each group of oral history contributes to the reconstruction and healing of the disrupted social fabric, highlighting among others its activist character.
Finally we might say that the work of our group might be of interest to those involved in Modern Greek Studies. The primal material of the interviews as well as its procession helps deepen the subject of history, affects the reflection, distracts from the stereotypes and gives birth to new questions for the researcher.
Thank you for your attention