Multilingual Memories of Migration. Students Interview Grandparents

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 interviews with members of the grandparent 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 their grandparents 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 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. This collection that can evolve, in its specific form, only from the collaboration with the students is the main project output and can serve as a basis for further research.

The interviews document 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 participant researchers will analyze how in the interviews “migration” is explored and narrated:

  • how the students ask for migration according to the preconceptions
  • what the interviewees communicate from their biographical experience to the younger generation
  • and how the interviews develop in dialogue

Furthermore, the analysis will focus on how experiences of migration are mediated and translated in the multilingual space between the generations.

(Photocredit © Georg Traska)