The reliability of oral histories in constructing knowledge of the past

Knowledge Questions: How do we construct knowledge about the past? How reliable are oral histories when learning about the past? To what extent do oral histories need to be independently corroborated in order to be believed?

The Underestimated Reliability of Oral Histories

As an archaeologist, if I have to dismiss the veracity of Native American oral traditions simply because they are not written down, then simple logic forces me to dismiss some of the accounts written in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which also began as oral tradition. To do anything else would be to maintain a racist double standard.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/09/dead-sea-scrolls-oral-written-history/571039/

How science and First Nations oral tradition are converging

Science is finally catching up to oral traditions passed down through generations of First Nations cultures

While the convergence of science and oral history is important, Kimberley TallBear, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Native Studies, says that it’s important that such investigations be a collaborative effort. She’s concerned that Western culture has always dominated that of First Nations and that it could do so again.

“I think it’s good, and I think it’s progress,” TallBear said. “But Western knowledge … [is] privileged over Indigenous knowledge.”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/science-first-nations-oral-tradition-converging-1.3853799

Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 Years

Aboriginal stories of lost islands match up with underwater finds in Australia

Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist—and provide their original names.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-sea-rise-tale-told-accurately-for-10-000-years/

How to Talk about Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Europeans

“A lot of common terms may seem ‘neutral’ but reinforce racism. A teacher’s textbook case.”

Wilderness? Permanent? More loaded terms

“Wilderness” is another problematic term. It implies a place that humans neither modify nor call home. So when we attempt to convey respect for Indigenous knowledge with sentences like “Indigenous people were highly skilled at navigating and surviving in the “wilderness,” we present an oxymoron. Were Indigenous peoples other than human? If it is wilderness, how can people inhabit it? Allowing this paradox to stand sustains questions that should long ago have been taken off life support, but that retain vibrancy in powerful arenas, not the least of which include our courts: Were these “organized societies” living in the wilderness? Did these people have “exclusive use and occupation” of the wilderness? The absurdity of these questions comes clear when we jettison “wilderness” for more appropriate language, something like “homeland” or better yet, the people’s own term, the hahuułni of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Haa Aani among the Tlingit, or Anishinaabe akiiing. Kimmerer tells us, “When we call a place by its name it is transformed from wilderness to homeland.”

https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2018/09/28/Relations-Indigenous-Peoples-Europeans/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=280918

What Was Lost in Brazil’s Devastating Museum Fire

A series of articles on the fire at the national museum in Brazil. Raises questions about the role of material culture in studying the past but also of the concept of “national memory.” Further, there were recordings of languages that are no longer spoken that were destroyed. Does the loss of a language represent a loss of knowledge? A knowledge system? Fascinating questions raised by this incident that speak to the volume of loss.

The losses are “incalculable to Brazil,” said Michel Temer, the country’s president, on Twitter. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”

Marina Silva, a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections, described the fire as “a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/09/brazil-rio-de-janeiro-museum-fire/569299/

BRAZIL’S MUSEUM FIRE PROVES CULTURAL MEMORY NEEDS A DIGITAL BACKUP

It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And it underscores that the academic community has not yet fully embraced the importance of archiving importance of archiving—not just in Brazil, but around the world.

https://www.wired.com/story/brazil-museum-fire-digital-archives/

‘Indigenous Ways of Knowing’: Magical Thinking and Spirituality by Any One Name

Restoule claims that, for Indigenous people, “the senses can know more deeply and concretely than knowledge gained through reading and being told.” He asserts that “knowledge is sometimes revealed through dreams, visions and intuitions.” And he offers a Venn diagram with a circle for “Western science”—“limited to evidence and explanation within [the] physical world” and “skepticism,”—overlapping somewhat with a circle for “Indigenous knowledge,” which is described as “holistic,” involving a “metaphysical world linked to moral code” and “trust for inherited wisdom.”

http://quillette.com/2018/05/22/indigenous-ways-knowing-magical-thinking-spirituality-one-name/

In Canada, Hunting and Preserving an Indigenous Way of Life

“When our grandparents and parents were forced to go to residential schools and literally torn away from their families, that knowledge was lost,” he said, noting that he had spent hours badgering his elderly aunts to share their old recipes and secrets, including how to make oolichan grease, or fermented smoked fish fat, which he uses to flavor soups or sauces.

Ms. Nottaway considers cooking her best weapon against assimilation, and on a recent Thursday afternoon, she set out to hunt for deer, partridge and beaver in a snow-covered forest on the reservation.

How science and First Nations oral tradition are converging

The researchers also found that roughly 175 years ago, the population of Coast Tsimshian in the region declined by as much as 57 per cent. This coincides with colonization and the spread of diseases such as smallpox, the accounts of which have also been passed down in First Nations oral tradition.

“Science is starting to be used to basically corroborate what we’ve been saying all along,” said Barbara Petzelt, an archaeologist with the Metlakatla First Nation, one of the researchers in the study.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/science-first-nations-oral-tradition-converging-1.3853799