PhD candidate in History, Cambridge University
(Paper presented by Kaoukab Chebaro & Hana Sleiman)
This article will provide a glance at the Palestinian Oral History Archive (POHA) project which is based at the American University of Beirut. POHA is a project to digitize, index, catalog and provide access to over a 1,000 oral history interviews with first generation Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon, and focusing on the experience of their expulsion from Palestine in 1948, and their subsequent residence in Lebanon in refugee camps. The stories told, collected, digitized, indexed, preserved and given access to, through the planned digital platform of the POHA project, have the potential of enriching the pool of primary source material about the Nakba, and hence of serving as evidence and as signifiers of a defining moment of rupture in Palestine’s modern history. Also, through the planning and execution of the POHA as a grassroots, bilingual digital platform, which seeks to preserve the orality and immediacy of the interviews collected and preserved, the project promises to present researchers with an opportunity to adopt an alternative entry point and stance in reading the historical document and the archive, as related to the Nakba and to the modern history of Palestine.
The article therefore focuses on the various questions and challenges the POHA team faced when building a bilingual digital platform to house, give access to and preserve a collection of grassroots, audiovisual testimonies of Palestinian oral history. The article highlights a variety of methodological decisions adopted by the Project team when working towards availing this material to researchers, while preserving the integrity, orality and immediacy of the medium itself. The result is to highlight the potential that oral history can afford researchers in terms of providing them with an opportunity for a more ethical and humane research methodology and stance, that of a human researcher facing a human narrator, thus emphasizing and unlocking the potential of oral history as a medium.
Hana Sleiman is an archivist and a graduate student in history. Her work on archive creation and appropriation in modern Palestinian history has been published in the Arab Studies Journal (Spring 2016), and exhibited in the context of Qalandia International, Beirut (October 2016). After receiving her MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University (2013), she worked as a Special Collections Librarian at the American University of Beirut Archives (2014–2016), focusing on Palestinian oral history and contemporary Arab visual culture. She is currently a PhD student in history at Cambridge University, working on curricula and student formation in early 20th century colleges in Beirut and Damascus.