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The Fifth International Conference of the Czech Association of Oral History

Author: Michal Louč

This year, the fifth annual conference of the Czech Association of Oral History (COHA) was held, this time with the subtitle “Many Faces of Oral History. From Theory and Methodology to Research Practice, Teaching and Popularization.” The conference was held on 15th and 16th February 2017 in Brno, in cooperation with the Department of Educational Sciences at the Faculty of Arts of the Masaryk University, the Ethnographic Institute of the Moravian Museum (MZK) and COHA. The scholarly part of the conference took place in a pleasant environment of the new building of the Department of Educational Sciences. The conference received a total of 47 contributions; owing to six participants from Slovakia and one participant from the USA, the conference received an international dimension.

Wednesday morning was dedicated to the opening ceremony and a series of appearances of main speakers. A number of major problems were thematized by the opening speech of Radmila Švaříčková Slabáková (Palacký University in Olomouc) Remembering and Emotions: From Memory Studies to Oral History. This was followed by Michael Kilburn’s (Endicott College) contribution which dealt with the topic of Czech underground. Hana Hlôšková (Comenius University in Bratislava) then discussed the relationship between oral history and folklore studies. This part of conference was concluded by a contribution of Miroslav Vaněk (Czech Academy of Sciences) Theory and Practice of Oral History: A Retrospection on Fifty Years of Organized Oral History in the World and Twenty Years of Its Existence in the Czech Republic, in which he critically and aptly evaluated the development of the field and the many pitfalls he faces. Among other things, he problematized the popular opinion that the development of oral history is essentially connected to the development of democracy, pointing to its massive development in countries such as the People’s Republic of China or Kazakhstan. As a major problem he sees the ideological and instrumental conceptions of history, which in his opinion goes completely against the method and meaning of oral history.

Now a few fragments from the parallel section: Jiří Zounek, Michal Šimáně and Dana Knotová (Department of Educational Sciences at the Faculty of Arts of the Masaryk University) presented two papers Stepping on the Thin Ice. Oral History in the Research of Contemporary History of Education and Elementary School Teachers in the Period of Prague Spring and the Beginning of Normalization, in which they summed up the findings from the just-concluded grant project that examined the normalization education through the method of oral history. Pavel Stehlík (Military History Institute) discussed the establishment of the oral history method in the Military History Institute. This year he published his recent research in the book I, a Soldier from Afghanistan: Memories of Czech Veterans (Stehlík: 2017). In her contribution Oral History in a Time-Lapse Perspective: One Hundred Student Revolutions After Twenty Years, Petra Schindler-Wisten (Czech Academy of Sciences) introduced the basis of the latest project of the Center for Oral History. Michal Louč (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes) presented his popularization project from last year in the speech Oral History and the Jazz Section. Owing to this project, a thematic web page Jazz Section 1971-1988: History, Publishing and Documentation was created (see He also talked about the history of the Section and about the conflict memoirs of some of the former members and activists. At the end, he shortly introduced his current project which focuses on Czechoslovak prison system in the years 1965 to 1992. In conclusion, it was very positive to find that many different institutions, organizations and researchers are dedicated to oral history and that the range of topics is quite vast. This is undoubtedly a great promise for the future.