Two weeks ago I participated in The Sixth International Finnish Oral History Network symposium: Fragile Memories: Doing Oral History with Vulnerable Narrators, which took place in Helsinki. I presented there our Network and my preliminary findings with regard to the research on Polish Children Born of War and taboo. For me it was also very interesting to listen other researcher’s stories about their struggles with various difficulties, successes and limitations in oral history practice with vulnerable populations.
The theme of the symposium was vulnerability and it seems to be an answer on developments we face currently. Anne Heim, chair of FOHN writes in the introduction of conference booklet: “unfortunately we are far from a situation where there would be no need to deal with vulnerability; people continue to be in desperate need of support and security all over the world. Oral historians in particular often collaborate with people who have experienced the horrors of natural disasters or man-made crises, poverty, war and other experiences of violence (...). This is why the examination of theoretical, methodological and ethical issues ” plays an important part in this year’s symposium.
In two days conference in addition to four keynotes there were presented over 30 papers in the field of oral history and memory studies, by scholars from various countries. Among topics there were: refugee crisis, migration, poverty, sexual violence, LGBT life stories and many others topics. Together with methodological issues concerning interviews with vulnerable populations one can learn about case studies and oral history projects running all over the world, from South Africa, through Canada, United States to Australia. However the most represented region was the Scandinavia and Baltic countries – it gave us opportunity to be more familiar with some issues from Finnish or Estonian history, which until now haven’t been present in historiography (i. e. German soldiers in Lapland during WWII, their relations with Sami women, and their children – the topic arouses big emotions and remains little-known until now.
The history of the region is fascinating, but also the activity of oral historians there commands respect. Not only the national engagements and relations between neighboring countries, but also international collaboration seems to be very intensive and fruitful. FOHN symposium ranks highly among oral history conferences, but also its work was appreciated by the International Oral History Association and in 2018 the XXth congress of IOHA will be held in Jyväskylä. At the same time the recent issue of Oral History journal is almost entirely devoted to Nordic-Baltic fieldwork and features the peculiarities of oral history research in Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden.