The Canadian Oral History Reader ed. by Kristina R. Llewellyn, Alexander Freund, and Nolan Reilly (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Kristina R. Llewellyn, Alexander Freund, and Nolan Reilly, eds. The Canadian Oral History Reader. McGill-Queen's University Press. xii, 388. $34.95

Although several oral history collections are available, including Routledge's The Oral History Reader and Oral History: A Disciplinary Anthropology, Canadian scholarship has been relatively overlooked. Looking to position Canadian oral history research on an international stage, editors Llewellyn, Freund, and Reilly, and fifteen contributors, have published the first Canada-centric volume, which includes chapters ranging from the social worlds of Indigenous knowledge (Cruikshank) to stories of survival in the aftermath of mass violence (Zembryzcki and High). Furthermore, methodological chapters, such as one pertaining to oral history in legal settings (Jarvis-Tonus), and self-reflexive submissions, as in another dealing with interviewer/interviewee politics impacting the research project (Sugiman), accompany theoretical debates, including two on the merits of materialist and post-structuralist approaches in oral history interpretation (Sangster and Llewellyn).

In addition to providing a space for these works, the editors also engage in something deeper: community formation. On one level, they see an international oral history community that does not seriously consider the work of Canadian practitioners; indeed, only two Canadian scholars are featured in the collections above. In an effort to showcase the richness of oral history in this country, Llewellyn, Freund, and Reilly have imagined [End Page 127] a community of scholars for domestic and international audiences. However, like any community, this one is built on inclusions and exclusions that need to be examined more closely.

Research on Canada's Indigenous population and pedagogy are well represented and comprise almost half of the sixteen chapters. Because Canada is a settler colonial state, the editors' selection of four articles based on historical dispossession and displacement is important and welcome. For nations which continue to grapple with past and present colonializations of Indigenous bodies and spaces, these chapters provide insightful parallels and meaningful contributions. For example, anthropologist Julie Cruikshank turns to two Yukon elders to explore how storytelling is a social medium that continually remakes their sociopolitical worlds, points to the local significance of events like the WWI, and exemplifies a First Nations historiographical tradition which challenges Eurocentric knowledges. In terms of pedagogical value, this reader offers practical applications of oral history from classrooms to museums. Historian Elise Chenier, for instance, warns of the degradation of queer oral history interviews from the 1980s and suggests that inadequate training in preservation, rather than homophobia, is more often the culprit. Chenier provides nine recommendations, including offering more oral history university classes and a greater role for the Canadian Oral History Association in queer history. Here too, the editors present Canada-rooted experiences that are applicable to global contexts that struggle to preserve oral histories for future students and publics. Indeed, the editors attempt to infuse their oral history community with the value of translatability in order to contest the understated relevance of Canadian scholarship internationally.

Meanwhile, however, there is a notable exclusion from the community presented in The Canadian Oral History Reader. French Canadian scholarship, both in terms of language and geography (minus relatively bilingual Montreal which is featured in two chapters), is a glaring omission. Indeed, none of the articles in French or about French Canada from Oral History Forum d'histoire orale, where a quarter of the chapters of this collection were originally published, appear in the reader. Surprisingly, the ten contributions to the journal's 1995 special issue, "Life stories and collective identity in French Canada," have been overlooked. In 2009, historian Magda Fahrni called attention to the separate historiographical traditions of English and French Canada. Although she acknowledged impediments to collaboration, with language being the most obvious, Fahrni urged that there is much that historians on both sides can learn from each other. Yet, seven years later, these separate spheres continue to shape the kinds of conversations we have about the past, as well as the makeup of the communities we create.

It is always difficult to be the first of any venture. Yet, despite the absence of French Canadian scholarship, The Canadian Oral History Reader [End Page 128] is an ambitious and welcome first step toward building a national...


pdf