U of L launches Centre for Oral History and Tradition

The University of Lethbridge has launched a new institute aimed at ensuring southern Alberta’s oral history is preserved and accessible.

The Centre for Oral History and Tradition (COHT) will not only advance research disciplines pertaining to oral history in the academic world, but also collaborate with community organizations across southern Alberta to help preserve, study and understand the region’s oral history.

The de Grandmaison oral history project is an example of the work that the Centre for Oral History and Tradition will undertake.

“The Institute will strive to preserve and analyze oral history sources,” says Dr. Heidi MacDonald, director of the new centre. “Oral histories contain valuable information that is often not available in any other form. Preserving these narratives is critical to understanding many fields of study. Our research will have an enduring relevance well into the future because the oral histories we capture will be studied for many more generations.”

University of Lethbridge faculty and graduate students involved in the institute have expertise in such areas as employment, health, sport, gender, religion, culture and local history. Together with community partners, including the Galt Museum and Archives, the centre will provide workshops and other support in order to identify, establish and assist oral history projects undertaken in southern Alberta. The centre is also committed to ensuring these projects are made available to the public.

“We want to be a portal for the dissemination of oral history to other researchers as well as provide a place where this knowledge is available to the people of southern Alberta and beyond. In addition to sharing the research we at the centre are interested in, we want to build this capacity with community groups that have an interest in preserving their own oral histories,” says MacDonald.

Collecting and preserving oral histories is becoming increasingly important. MacDonald says information is continually becoming more transient, which will have implications for the future. For example, fewer people keep diaries, and in the workplace, e-mails are easily deleted.

“Sources that historians have traditionally used are becoming rare. Far less information is hitting paper today compared to even a decade ago,” says MacDonald.  “In addition, oral histories can provide personal insights that expand on more standard histories.”

The announcement of the COHT was made at the Galt Museum & Archives. The event included a display demonstrating an oral history project undertaken by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and University Archives, an initiative that supports the gallery’s vast Nicholas de Grandmaison collection of artworks and artifacts.

As an itinerant painter, de Grandmaison often stayed with ranchers, farmers and Aboriginal families for several days at a time while he painted their portraits. His unique lifestyle, character and attitude having left a plethora of interesting experiences that augment the context of his paintings. These stories complement the University's de Grandmaison collection.

The U of L is home to 12 different centres and institutes that foster and promote research expertise and capabilities as well as provide a platform for trans-disciplinary research.

The U of L’s Vice-President (Research), Dr. Dan Weeks, says these centres and institutes facilitate the formation of unique and creative research and teaching partnerships inside and outside of the University.

“The University of Lethbridge’s initiative to create new centres and institutes allows for greater collaboration among researchers and makes research more publicly available. The Centre for Oral History and Tradition will make an incredibly positive contribution to southern Alberta communities through its work,” says Weeks.