Professional Practice in Oral History (M.A.)


Orality is not just a vehicle of information but also a component of its meaning. The dialogic and narrative form of oral sources culminate in the density and complexity of language itself. The very tones and accents of the oral discourse convey the history and identity of the speakers, and transmit meanings well beyond the speaker’s conscious intention..”
- Alessandro Portelli

Oral and performance traditions shape the way we understand oral history in India. Shinde Anjaneyulu and family perform Tolu Bommalata at the XIXth International Oral History Conference held in Bengaluru in June 2016.


Life stories and memories are powerful tools with which to understand our complex world. Oral History, which uses both these tools, allows us to ask questions and learn the perspectives of people who were never included in official historical records; it thus enables access to what events, social practices, and political decisions meant to people. The art of speaking to people about their experiences is in itself a singular form of human interaction that helps us to understand the past and the present and so build a stronger foundation for the future.

We envision the Professional Practice in Oral History (PPOH) as an opportunity for professionals to engage theoretically and practically with the changing of society. This interdisciplinary program will enable professionals from different backgrounds to become practitioners who explore the deep connections between history, memory, and experience and through their practice transform into individuals who can move across disciplines and create new resources that offer deep insights into the dynamics of the past and present in the context of their own institutions, families, and communities.

Doddabommasandra was a student film made as part of the “Talking History” course for students of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in 2011.

Oral history interview with Professor Ashis Nandy, CPH-India International Centre Project, 2014.

Oral history interview with Professor Amartya Sen, CPH-Economic and Political Weekly Project, 2014.

Oral history interview with two employees at the Indian Museum, CPH-Indian Museum Project, 2014.

Research and Collaboration

Students of the Oral History Program will hone their skills by working on the ongoing projects of the Centre for Public History (CPH). In the last five years, CPH has played a pioneering role by not only using oral history to create archives of contemporary Indian institutions, it has also taught certificate courses in oral history and organised regular Winter Schools in Oral History with the collaboration of oral historians from across the world. In July 2016, CPH, through the Oral History Association of India (OHAI), organised the International Oral History Association’s XIXth conference. Students will be participants of a lively community.

Posters of Oral History events organised by CPH at Srishti 2012-2017.

Renowned oral historian Alessandro Portelli giving a public lecture as part of WSOH in 2013.

Participant asking a question at a public panel held during IOHA 2016.

Indira Chowdhury, Director of CPH, taking a class during OHCC, November 2016.

The institutions that CPH has built oral history archives for include IIMC, Kolkata, IMSc, Chennai, EPW, Mumbai, Indian Museum, Kolkata, and Sasha, Kolkata. CPH’s wide range of projects are based in different cities in India. By engaging directly with the oral history component of CPH projects, students will gain the experience of working with real-time oral history projects.

CPH also collaborates with the other research and practice labs in Srishti and students will have the opportunity of collaborating with filmmakers, cultural activists, new media practitioners, artists, and designers who work with history and heritage. Students will have the option of working on one of CPH’s projects as part of their Capstone/dissertation.

Listening stations at IIMC Kolkata’s archival exhibition “Welcome to the Archives”, 2014.

Participants outside Koshy’s, one of the stops on the Bangalore Storyscapes walk curated and conducted by CPH, 2016.

Modes of Learning offered by the course

Click on image for enlarged view.

Course Structure

The PPOH offers the following ways to approach oral history theory and practice, which include curricular instruction as well as more extensive and engaged opportunities to think about oral history beyond the classroom.

Seminar Studios: To fully explore different learning potentials offered by the theoretical frameworks of oral history practice, this course offers Seminar- Studio as a core learning and investigating space, where text- based historical scholarship and research practices will be mobilized and reoriented towards the intersection of memory, oral traditions, contemporary concerns and the use of oral history in these contexts.

Workshop: Workshops provide intense learning experiences in the different aspects of doing oral history, using different media as well as managing an oral history project starting with doing background research for an interview to interviewing, transcribing, editing and archiving the interviews.

Interlude: This is a space in which the student will pursue a practical engagement related to their field of study that is creative, reflective and extensive. Students will have the opportunity to participate in the Annual Winter School in Oral History organised by CPH apart from attending ongoing workshops at Srishti.

Tutorials: Tutorials comprise Master Classes, Webinars, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) as a core component of the PPOH. This allows students to remain in constant contact with material, combining the learning received during their contact hours with distance and online learning options.

Winter School in Oral History: The Winter School in Oral History is an advanced course that introduces participants to cutting edge research in the field of Oral History. With eminent faculty from the fields of oral and public history, drawn from across the world, the course has master classes on methodology, archiving standards, ethical issues and forms of dissemination, which allows participants to apply the knowledge gained in their own projects. The Winter School is organised annually, with a new theme covered each year.

Peer Circles: Participative opportunities for dialogue and reviews that can be both facilitated and independent, face-to-face or online (such as blogs, discussion board conversations, wiki creation).

Field Work as Practice: Experiential, embodied and physical engagement in oral history, through extensive fieldwork. It includes self-study and reflective documentation through field notes and maintaining reflective blogs that act as an archive of students’ work.

Webinars: Forums for receiving feedback on projects undertaken and for presenting and defending a written paper and dissertation in response to a given situation, context or proposition.

Electives: Engagement outside the workspace that allows for extension and building connections. This can include visits to exhibitions, historic sites, lectures, guided walks, participation in workshops and studios. It also includes the option to take another unit or course in a parallel course of professional practice (such as visual communication, design in education etc.).

Portfolio: Development of a reflective and curated body of work that represents professional practice over a time period. For PPOH students, this would mean the development of a strong body of oral history interviews, which they can draw on for their own research as well as to demonstrate their skills as professional oral historians.

Dissertation: Practice based research along with and its documentation; dissertation and viva voce. PPOH students will use the oral history interviews/project they undertake as part of the course to craft an original dissertation that will contribute to the discipline of oral history and further their own research and professional goals.

Capstone Project: Capstone Project is the culmination of the research, capabilities and knowledge gained over the last three semesters. Students are required to submit their oral history project output and a mandated thesis document. Students are mentored during this final project and go through seminars to get feedback from faculty and peer groups.

Training school teachers work with memories VidyaShilp-CPH Project, 2016.

Students at WSOH 2013 learn about recording equipment.

Learning Approach

The Professional Practice in Oral History provides those who are working with the opportunity to learn the art and craft of doing oral history and situating their interviews within a critical and theoretical framework. The course is designed to have a certain period of residency during which participants learn through immersive intensive experience through Master Classes, Workshops and Peer Circle discussions. During the time participants will spend in their field of practice, they will undertake independent study and research and be part of webinars. There will also be ongoing mentoring. Students learn through online peer circle participatory platforms such as discussion boards and writing blogs. The students will also undertake field work based projects – professionals employed in Institutional Archives could build Oral History Archives, those working in schools could work with pedagogic aspects of oral history by engaging with project-based learning and those involved in other work could pursue a project of their own interest. By undertaking background research, conducting interviews, paying attention to the ethical dimensions of interviewing, archiving the material and interpreting and curating the oral history interviews, students will learn to apply the skills that they learn in the course and situate their practice within a broader theoretical and practical framework. Students will apply what they learn about different aspects of their projects in the workshops to their final year Capstone project or dissertation. The Capstone project/dissertation will be field-work based and students will complete their Master’s dissertation guided by their advisors. This practical, “hands-on” learning approach will enable students to take their practice back to their place of work or launch new careers as professional oral historians in a variety of sectors.

Capability Sets

  • Interviewing: learn the craft of the oral history interview, which includes doing background research, framing questions based on relevant themes, administering and negotiating issues of rights, handling recording devices, conducting interviews and transcribing, translating, and editing them.
  • Archiving: conceptualise and create archives for oral history interviews, which involves ethics, legal issues, issues of access as well as the anticipating and planning for obsolescence of technology in order for oral history recordings to survive for future users. Students will also learn to manage projects of different scales that require working with archival tools for oral history.
  • Interpreting: analytical skills and theoretical frameworks that would enable to interpret oral history interviews and situate understanding within a larger socio-cultural and political framework while being critically aware of orality and memory as sources that open new avenues for interpretation .
  • Curating: edit and curate oral history interviews and  learn the art of dissemination through different media – printed materials such as books, audio-visual material such as exhibitions, films, and memory walks that explore local heritage.

Oral history class taught by CPH members at Patan, Nepal in April 2015.

Oral historian Anne Valk takes a class at, WSOH 2015.


Oral history is being increasingly used in schools, institutions and the corporate sector. CPH’s wide client base will also enable students to find suitable employment and consulting opportunities after the completion of the program in the following sectors:

Institutions and Corporate Sector

  • Archival Consultant for corporates and institutions using oral history as a tool
  • Digital Archivist for Oral History Archives

Museum Sector

  • Oral History Curator for exhibitions and Light and Sound shows

NGO sector

  • Community Worker

Media sector

  • Oral historians who work with filmmaker as collaborators/consultants and lead interviewers
  • Oral historians using online tools to create digital archives
  • Program designers for Radio and Television including Community Radio
  • Journalists

Education Sector

  • Designers for pedagogic interventions through oral history
  • Consultants for school projects
  • Higher Education – Ph.D. in Oral History, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Communication Studies, or any discipline that uses oral history

Oral history interview with A. R. Seshagiri CPH-Bangalore Storyscapes Project, 2015.


For enquiries, please email Indira Bharadwaj at

Disciplinary Intersections

Oral history draws on people’s experiences to reconstruct the past. The long interview forms the heart of oral history practice. Interviews explore people’s memories and thus enable us to add layers to the past that is accessible in written documents. Oral history changes the focus of what is available in official documents, incorporating marginal voices that are often ignored. In order to understand the historical background within which to situate oral history interviews, students will be trained not only in the historical method but also in methods used by related disciplines like anthropology, geography, and sociology. Students will focus on oral history within an academic context as well as its application and dissemination beyond – in institutional, corporate, and family archives as well as in film and theatre. They will also be introduced to a larger range of practices drawn from visual culture, literature, folk studies, and language studies so as to find new forms of expression. The core disciplines therefore will include:

The practice of oral history integrates audio and video archiving, digital storytelling, and public history. Learning will therefore involve a combination of the following skills:

Processing and archiving interviews
Audio recording
Digital archiving
Video recording
Visual Communication Design

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