Archive: June, 2013

Conference Presentation: Digital Media and Dangerous Narratives

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

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This morning, I presented (via skype, unfortunately) at the conference “Digital Testimonies on War and Trauma” hosted by Erasmus University in Rotterdam. It promises to be a fascinating event where oral historians who work among conflicted or transitional communities can share their experiences applying digital media tools to a range of issues, with a particular focus on the Western Balkan region. My paper was titled “Digital Media and Dangerous Narratives: The Case of Post-Genocide Rwanda.”

Abstract: Digital media, broadly defined, is rapidly gaining currency among oral historians and related practitioners as a convenient and provocative means of analyzing and disseminating the results of our research. It allows oral historians to move beyond written transcripts to interact with audio and video materials, allowing for a deeper understanding of the metadata – changes in tone, rhythm of speech, body language, and so on – that surrounds what is said within the interview space. It also has enormous potential to make oral histories accessible to a wide audience, particularly in developed nations. However, this paper argues that there are limitations to the use of digital media surrounding settings of chronic insecurity. Drawing upon five years of experience in post-genocide Rwanda, I argue that while digital media can be invaluable during analysis, when faced with a highly politicized research setting, oral historians must exercise caution. During fieldwork, oral historians must be cognizant of government surveillance and interference, particularly when noticeable amounts of digital audio and video equipment is involved. In disseminating outcomes, meanwhile, additional protocol may need to be introduced to protect participants’ identities. And finally, once the outcomes of the project have been disseminated, the enhanced accessibility and visibility of digital media can introduce obstacles toward future fieldwork. This paper suggests possible solutions to these ethical and methodological issues, but also asks oral historians to consider circumstances in which the use of digital media is inappropriate or unethical.


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