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Silences and oral history: the academic perspective

Subtheme 1: ”Silences during interviews”


Silences always fall during oral history interviews. There is an art to being silent at appropriate times as an interviewer, but interviewees often fall silent too. What do these silences mean? it could be that an interviewee feels uncomfortable, or just so comfortable that he/she dares to be silent. Perhaps the subject is too heavy to talk about, or there is shame attached to it. Also, memories may be so deep that they need to be reflected on.


In the pdf document on the right, you will find summaries of the studies below dedicated to silences during interviews.


Ruth Beecher: “A silence register: Doctors, nurses and psychologists on their role in
 protecting children from sexual abuse”


Antje van Kerckhove: “Diethylstilbestrol and (breaking) silence in affected families (Belgium, 1970’s – present)”


Anne-Sophie Crosetti: “On and off the record: Narrative strategies of Catholic counsellors in conversation with a socio-historian”

Subtheme 2: ”To be silent or to be silenced”

Not only during oral history interviews do silences fall. Often witnesses do not talk about a particular topic for decades, for instance because there is a stigma on the subject or because of fatigue to talk about it. 


Here you can read more about studies dedicated to being silent or silenced for long periods of time. 

Romaine Girod: ‘‘Silences and speech on sexual violence in the Catholic Church in Switzerland’’


Estelle Freedman: ‘’Before ‘’Sexual Harassment’’: Silence and Speech in U.S. Women’s Oral Histories’’


Tim Debroyer: “The End of Tuberculosis? Stigma and Silence in the Aftermath of Disease”

Subtheme 3: ”Historical silences”


Bringing out the underexposed story is an important theme in oral history. In the past, for example, women’s experiences were often kept silent. Oral history can illuminate those perspectives. 


In the attached document, you will find summaries of two studies: 


Tracey Loughran: ‘’Trauma’ and ‘Resilience’ in Women’s Narratives of Sex, Sexuality and Sexual Consent’’


Eleanor Strangways: “Uncovering the experiences of female religious in Congo (1960 – 1980)”

Full report of symposium ‘Silence is (not) an option: Re-thinking oral history post #MeToo’ (18 November)


The report was written by Liesbeth Knaeps, intern at ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’. 


During the symposium, there were several panels that delved deeper into the backgrounds and meanings of silences and silence from an academic oral history perspective. Several discussions also flowed from this. 


The subthemes above are based on Liesbeth’s attendance at the symposium. The full report with three panels and discussions can be found to the left. 


The symposium was organised by AVG-Carhif, the Archives and Research Centre for Women’s History in Brussels, in collaboration with postdoctoral researchers Tinne Claes from KUleuven, Juliette Masquelier from Université Libre Bruxelles and Marjolein van Bavel from UAntwerpen, and took place on 17 & 18 November 2022. This page only reports on the second day (18 November).