Oral History and the Story of Western Canadian Wokers: Lessons from the Experience of the Alberta Labour History Institute presented at the Pacific Northwest Labour History Association Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC, June 6-11, 2008
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Over the past 8 years, the Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI) has produced videos and transcriptions of over 200 interviews with trade union leaders, activists, and rank-and-filers in an effort to produce a workers’ history of their work and community lives. ALHI plans several hundred more interviews in the next several years as a result of partnership arrangements with the Alberta Federation of Labour and other organizations. ALHI is a volunteer organization consisting of trade unionists, academics, and other interested parties. As in any such organization engaged in popular history, the activists have different understandings of the purpose of oral history interviews, who is to be interviewed, the kinds of questions to be asked, and how, if at all, the interviews should be interpreted. This paper will present the views of two academics with a long history of participation in ALHI on the academic activist “take” on these issues and the extent to which compromises between academic and popular historians, both having a commitment to preserving histories of class struggle, are possible and desirable.