Multilingual Memories of Migration. Students conduct intergenerational interviews

In Austrian archives und oral history collections, migrant and post-migrant groups and their languages are considerably underrepresented. This fact contributes to the reproduction of a national hegemonic discourse that misses the country’s social diversity.

In the participatory project, students of the 9th up to the 12th grade (aged roughly 15 to 19) perform biographical oral history interviews with members of the older generation in their language of origin or in German, according to the interviewees’ choice. For that purpose, eight schools in Vienna and Lower Austria with a high proportion of post-migrant students were selected.

Students making the contact to family members and acquaintances facilitates the approach to interviewees who might otherwise be hard to reach by researchers; and it enables a sampling of minimum social and institutional selectivity towards the migrant communities.

The interviews will manifest a specific intergenerational memory as well as the students’ multilingualism, since the students have to manage the transfer from the German world of education to their family’s (or community’s) sphere of language and translate small sections of the interviews into German.

The students are introduced to the issue of social representativeness of historical sources and to the methods of oral history. They develop the questionnaires and perform the audio interviews in small work groups. They cope productively with their own multilingualism and train practices of translation.

The project makes a considerable contribution to an Austrian “archive of migration” with sound recordings of around 70 biographical interviews in as many as 15 to 20 languages. The interviews are archived with full translations in the Austrian Mediathek and presented there in a web exhibition.

A historical and narratological analysis focusses on concepts and motives of “migration biographies”, as to how migration shapes the biographical account in the intergenerational interview setting. Supported by participant observation, the students’ cognitive trajectories are explored throughout the project: from expectations and preconceptions up to the narrative evolvement of the interviews and their further editing, and in a personal reflection of the entire process. A sociolinguistic examination analyses moments of heteroglossia in the interviews’ recordings.

(Photocredit © Georg Traska)