History

The Kosovo Oral History Initiative is a collective of researchers of different generations, nationalities and competences, whose mission is to record life stories that intersect with the broader history of Kosovo and world events. The Initiative was born in the summer of 2012 from a collaboration between the Kosova Women’s Network (Pristina) and The New School for Public Engagement (NY), when a few women researchers and activists from Pristina and New York came together and discussed how to realize a dream we had shared for a long time: rescue from oblivion the voices of people – leaders and ordinary people – that Kosovo’s changeable official histories had condemned to amnesia. We wanted to go beyond the narratives of victimization and the straightjacket of group thinking. We were interested in recovering the whole life experience of individuals.

Thanks to seed funds from The New School, a few private donors, the support of Kosova Women’s Network, but mostly the work of volunteers, we began to film interviews. Naturally, the first building block was made of interviews with Albanian women, whose part in war and peace times has been most often sidelined, if not forgotten. The interviews, filmed and transcribed in Albanian, English, and Serbian, are collected and presented in this website.

In 2015, the Oral History Initiative became an independent organization, and began to develop broader research themes.

Images, voices and written words

We are aware that the interviewers, by their very presence, influence the interviewee. Filming, which is a team effort, complicates the dynamic between the interviewee and a multiplicity of researchers. There may be no way of neutralizing the distortions caused by this complex context. We tried to minimize the problem by selecting interviewers who speak the same dialect as the interviewee and ask few, broad questions, giving priority to what the interviewee wants to say, rather than what she thinks the researcher wants to hear. Further questions are asked to clarify what was being said or expand on it.

As for the transcripts, they are written texts that reflect the pattern of speech, with the paragraphs and the punctuation that the transcriber proposes in order to make sense of the narration. Translations move farther away from the orality of the source. They need to be understood as another layer of representation. Without the translations, the interview would be only understandable to a limited audience.

Why Oral history?

The oral tradition is a long established cultural trait of Kosovo. It has preserved the history of individuals, families and nations as narration of stories. Far from being less credible than written history, it is a form of recording the past that has gained scholarly credibility. In fact, written and oral sources are not mutually exclusive. Oral history should be used to interact and complement documents and other various texts.

Oral history offers a unique perspective – a closer reflection of the point of view of the narrators, the powerful and the powerless. It allows for contradictions, uncertainties and mistakes that reveal anxieties, fears, aspirations and dreams. It includes a more lasting portrait of this collectivity through individual testimonies that recollect their intimate experiences within the family and their connection with their country. This is why we are building a visual archive for Kosovo – we take the orality of our sources very seriously.

To the public, we provide the opportunity to listen to the voices of people, catch the rhythm and the tone of speech, as well as see the visual expression of feelings underlying the words. We also provide transcripts in multiple languages, which may betray the immediacy of orality, but allow expanding the narrators’ reach. Our goal is to add layers of representation to the history of a collectivity that too often has been narrated in simplistic, binary fashion.

Principles

We treat our interviews with sensitivity and respect. We don’t claim to present their lives, just the stories they tell us about themselves.

STAFF

Anna Di Lellio

Research and Development Director

Erëmirë Krasniqi

Executive Director

Aurela Kadriu

Research Assistant / Translator

Jeta Rexha

Affiliated Researcher

Nataša Govedarica

Affiliated Researcher

Lura Limani

Affiliated Researcher

Kaltrina Krasniqi

Art Director

Hana Ahmeti

Financial Officer

Donjetë Berisha

Camera and Editing

Abit Hoxha

Affiliated Researcher

BOARD

Alessandro Portelli

Historian

Arbnora Dushi

Folklore Scholar

Sonja Biserko

President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

Robert Elsie

Writer and Linguist

PARTNERS & DONORS