Oral History and Digital Humanities: A transcontinental case study on circular labor migration from Angola and Mozambique to former East Germany, 1960-95

Global history and digital humanities are two approaches that are at the forefront of pushing the frontiers of professional history writing. The exciting potential of enhancing the collection, presentation, and accessibility of data across geographical space whilst shrinking time has far reaching consequences for conceptualizing and presenting work on global history. Digitality enables scholarly conversations even across areas with varying technological infrastructure potential such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America, and enables the participation of those whose voices were recorded in an ongoing conversation.

This work-in-progress talk seeks to contribute to the conference through a discussion about the various ways in which I employ digital tools, focusing on the process of transforming, managing, presenting, and storing the oral data collected for my PhD thesis. The project is based on archival and oral data from four countries (Angola, Germany, Mozambique, Portugal), on two continents and across three languages (English, German, Portuguese). The talk is divided into four parts. Firstly, it illuminates the challenges of oral history collection and its various digital possibilities (digital recorder, lifescribe pen, use of tablet or smartphone) across diverse cultural spaces. Secondly, it elaborates on data management (how to store the data, how to digitize and transcribe it, working with classification and descriptive standards and meta data, preparing the data for its application across various tools). Thirdly, the talk turns towards data presentation and the epistemological implications of spatio-temporal representations and data-driven analysis for this given research project. Here, two approaches are of special interest, namely, visual presentation and textual analysis. How can oral history be visualized? In what way do approaches such as story mapping inform our analysis of global migration patterns? To what degree does work with linked photo and audio canvases influence the reader’s analytical distance? To what degree do such multi-sensual vignettes hold the possibility to underscore the local within the context of the global? Moreover, what are the implications for digital textual analysis when working across various languages and cultures of orality and translations from oral to written texts? Lastly, I would like to open up questions on the legal and disciplinary possibilities and pitfalls of creating an online archive with interactive space for ongoing conversations, accessible to researchers and students across the continents, underscoring issues such as ownership and infrastructural possibilities and challenges when working to connect Africa and Europe.

While the talk will focus primarily on practical aspects and experiences, its theoretical contributions include reflections on how to interlink digital humanities with the production of global history and the consequences this carries for the various local disciplinary cultures of this case study. The effects of digitization are not limited to the actual writing of global history, but start with the collection of data, continue with digitization and the data’s visual, auditory and textual presentation, and finally encompasses the preservation of the data and its accessibility for future projects. The international move towards global history is evidence for a growing interest in trans-cultural endeavors across the scholarly world and digital humanities provides us with tools to enhance that interconnectivity, providing for a multi-directional network of exchanges.


Curriculum Vitae

Marcia C. Schenck, originally from Germany, is a PhD candidate in history at Princeton University. Her dissertation preliminarily entitled “From Africa to East Germany and back: Uncovering the Life Experiences of Transnational Mozambican and Angolan Contract Workers During and After the Cold War”  focuses on life histories of labor migrants from Angola and Mozambique to former East Germany. As Mercator Fellow on International Affairs, she worked on labor migration in Asia and South America. She holds an MSc in African studies from Oxford University and a BA summa cum laude in international relations from Mount Holyoke College. Her previous work centers on San land rights and ethnicity in South Africa and Namibia. Oral history, memory, migration, development, labor, and identity politics are among her research interests


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