HIST 4916A: Topics in Public History – “Staging Oral Histories: Performance, Theatre, and Event.”
Winter 2023 

Instructor: Rick Duthie

Introduction: The practice of oral history as a narrative making process shares a fruitful (although uncanny) relationship with theatre, theatrical performance, and arts/performance-based events. This interdisciplinary association has been the topic of some recent studies, which seek to explore and to encourage further efforts to illuminate the performative qualities and aspects that are inherent within both diverse practices, especially while considering them ‘history-making’ activities.

We will explore this relationship as public historians in a very practical way, while testing and situating our efforts within the various literatures. We will begin by “practicing” oral history as well as engaging with the inherent orality and subjectivity within the practice. Our common aim in this course as public historians will be to move this work into the realm of theatre and performance, and to co-witness and to co-create throughout this transition and process. Theatre is a valuable means and method to ‘doing’ public history (among others) as it comprises various aspects such as narrative (playwrighting), performance, memory, and utilizes oral historical-based tools and techniques such as verbatim, documentary and playback elements. Students will devise performance strategies while enacting various roles as researcher, writer/creator, director, performer, and witness. They will cumulatively work towards building a final performance/event rather than a final research paper. This course is designed for both performers and non-performers with an emphasis on process over product.

Class Format: This seminar workshop will meet once per week in a three-hour block. We will spend time unpacking weekly readings and engaging in practical activities related to the course.

Aims and Goals: My aim in teaching this course will be to introduce you to the techniques and practices of how public historians translate oral history into theatrical performance.  You will learn how to apply your historical skills to the analysis of oral history and be familiarized with how to apply that analysis to script writing and performance. Throughout the course, we will examine and reflect on the ethical, pedagogical, and historiographical dimensions involved with staging public history.

Assessment: This course requires no experience in theatre or the performance arts. However, participation in weekly workshop activities, groupwork, and performance-based exercises are vital. There will be weekly reflections and a final performance.

Text: To be determined.

Questions? Please email me at rickduthie@cmail.carleton.ca