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Oral history and aging: Transmitting life stories of being and becoming across cultures and generati

Over the first two weeks of June, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Columbia University’s Oral History Summer Institute, entitled “Oral history and aging: Transmitting life stories of being and becoming across cultures and generations.”

Hosted by the Columbia Centre for Oral History Research (CCOHR), the program brought together 26 fellows and 18 speakers from around the world, among them graduate students, scholars, activists, practitioners, archivists, and librarians. The program involved lectures, fellows’ presentations, and group discussions on themes of intergenerational and crosscultural oral history, based in a number of academic disciplines. We also participated in workshops about archival practises, organizing metadata, and the framing and editing of digital stories.

Highlights of the Institute, for me, included a presentation by Dr. Kavita Sivaramakrishnan (Columbia) about the history of Aging Studies and her decolonial work on the cultural politics of aging in south Asia. Nyssa Chow, alumni of Columbia’s Oral History MA program (OHMA) and MFA program, led a workshop on digital storytelling and a powerful session about her new multimedia book, Still.Life, which tells of her family’s story in Trinidad and Tobago. The program ended with a fascinating panel discussion by Dr. Alessandro Portelli (University of Rome), Sara Sinclair (OHMA alumni; Voice of Witness), and Terrell Frazier (Columbia) who all spoke about their experiences of recording and examining narratives of resistance in oral history.

While at the Institute, I gave a short presentation that described my experiences and reflections of taking part in two of Aging Activisms digital storytelling and community-building workshops: the Montreal Media Capsules workshop (spring 2016) and the series “Stories of Resistance, Resurgence, and Resilience in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough” (fall 2016). Listeners were intrigued to hear about our activist-research collective and about our collaborative and participatory approaches to recording and editing.

It was a humbling, uplifting experience to listen to the speakers and to learn and spend time with the other fellows at the Institute. Their research, insights, and humour were deeply inspiring to me. Thank you all for your generosity. I am looking forward to collaborations to come out of the Institute, and to hearing updates about the work of those who attended.

Thank you to the organizers of the Institute, and thank you, Aging Activisms, for supporting me to attend!

I would also like to thank and acknowledge the Lenape People, upon whose land the Institute took place.

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