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The Witness Seminar

The Politics, Policies and Ethics of HIV/AIDS: Past and Present

Teaching Grid, University Library, University of Warwick, 24th November 2009

The growing literature on HIV/AIDS has grown exponentially since the emergence of the virus. A mass of archival and statistical data, as well as medical, epidemiological, and historical writings, emerges at a rate that threatens to overwhelm the historian of the recent past.

One way to navigate this terrain is to talk with those who have been involved, first-hand, in HIV/AIDS research and activism, through a Witness Seminar: a specialised form of oral history that brings together key figures to discuss their memories and views. It was originally developed by the Institute of Contemporary British History, and further elaborated by the History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group at Welcome UCL (convened by Professor Tilli Tansey), which regularly brings together clinicians, scientists and historians.
Witness Seminars each develop their own idiosyncratic dynamics that emerge from the personalities of the participants and the relationships between them. They are also a move away from formal published accounts - and the presence of the personal inherent in a Witness Seminar was all the more evident in SHAW. It was impossible to talk about journeys into activism without talking about love, sex, illness and death. Personal recollections of losses, and of struggles against prejudice and fear, were intensely moving for participants and audience alike.