The Potential of Oral History in the Study of Historical Landscapes
In the paper, the potential of an oral history approach to the study of historical landscapes is considered. In recent decades, oral history has been celebrated by its practitioners fo r its ability to inquire into social and political histories of people and communities for which archival evidence is lacking. When dealing with these narratives, the humanizing potential and thus the value of oral history is unquestionable. Lately, however, oral historians have increasingly expanded their gaze to consider other spheres of intimate knowledge, in particular accounts of landscape change, land use, and farm practices. This shift in academic and practical interests begs questions about the oral historical methods chosen, the limits to oral historical theory, and the concordance of oral evidence with written and material data. The paper begins to address these questions while giving a panoramic view of the research conducted so far in the US, Africa, and Australia concerning investigations of the indigenous peoples’ places of memory, as well as in the UK, where scholars’ interests lie mostly in historical farming and past rural landscapes. In this part, special attention is paid to the remarkable phenomenon of cooperation between archaeology and oral history. The two approaches turn out not to be mutually exclusive; their data combined allow for a more complete picture of the past. Other than that, both European and American scholars argue for the potential of oral history to bring a deeper understanding of th e process of how places become meaningful. The second part of the paper considers the development of oral historical methods and theory in historical landscapes investigations in Russia. One of the axes adopted by scholars and aimed at the reconstruction of past rural landscapes through recollection, location, and mapping of place names has proved to have a number of positive features. Meanwhile, another axis, which deals with the study of sacred places, has showed that it is here that oral history can make a contribution to the interpretation and understanding of features in a landscape. Finally, it is suggested in the paper that the oral hist ory approach has considerable potential in augmenting and challenging existing landscape narratives. Indeed, when few material records survive, oral histories can provide an insight into landscape change and thus help to understand the behavior of past generations.
Oral tradition, Historical landscapes, Rural landscape, Memory, Oral history and archaeology, Place names, Mental landscapes