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Oral History Crossing National Boundaries: Investigating Belief and Non-Belief in Three European Countries

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Location: Postgraduate Hub Rooms 1 and 2 (Senate House, next to Arts Centre)

Seminar Event with Professor Joanna Bornat, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Health & Social Care (The Open University)

Joanna Bornat is emeritus professor at the Open University and has a long-standing interest in remembering and ageing. She is joint editor of Oral History. Her recent publications include articles, chapters and an edited collection published from three research projects all involving oral history-based research: Timescapes, where her focus was ‘the oldest generation’ and secondary analysis; the contribution of South Asian doctors to the development of the geriatric specialty and religious and secular ceremonies in late life in three European countries. She is currently working on the fourth edition of The Voice of the Past with Paul Thompson and has been reviewing archived oral history collections for Jane McCarthy’s research into childhood experiences of death.

Paper Abstract: Though oral historians are well known for the internationalism of their outlook and practice, examples of comparative work are few. Coupled with this has been oral history’s neglect of religion and secularism. A project investigating the changing historical experience of changing attitudes to traditional religious ritual amongst the oldest generation in three European countries, Bulgaria, Romania and the UK offered opportunities to develop oral history as an approach in relation to: comparison across national boundaries and changes in religious belief over time. For this presentation I outline the 'Religion and Secular Ceremonies’ project, review examples of comparative oral history and present findings from the project with examples from all three countries. Finally I consider what a comparative approach offers oral history, drawing on our experience of working cross-nationally and amongst a group of researchers who differed in relation to beliefs and affiliations.

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