What it is, what it was, what it will be.

Activities & Play, african, design, idea, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

Academically speaking, an oral history is not intended to present a final, verified, or “objective” narrative of events, or a comprehensive history of a place, because it is a primary source of information. Its a spoken account, reflects personal opinion offered by the narrator, and as such it is subjective.

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Oral histories are often used together with other sources to gain understanding and insight into history.

Non academically speaking, you get a better feel for an event if it is told to you. It can compensate for dry factual accounts or statistical information. Oral testimony becomes oral history from one generation to the next It is the memory of the past spoken to the next generation.

Professor Phillip Bonner, head of the History Workshop Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS University) in South Africa and National Research Foundation Chair for “Local Histories, Present Realities” has conducted research in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.

“…Many societies in Africa have traditionally been shaped by oral rather than written communication; the literacy rate is often low. Colonialism, Apartheid and other forms of oppression reinforced this tendency throughout the continent, resulting in a lack of written documentation about the past. Historians thus had to find other ways of gathering historical information, and oral history methods have proven to be a very useful tool in their research efforts.”

Oral history predates written history in Africa (some of the most ancient historical texts are drawn from oral testimony). But it was only used in African historical research from the 1960s. Prior to that, there were huge gaps in African history books.

brain-2Sure, human memory is unreliable in certain contexts. So the method was initially greeted with a great deal of scepticism. But for African cultures, the word was the history, so they had ways of remembering the important points, something which western scholars seem to have ignored.

Nowadays, people like Professor Bonner hold “live history interviews,” where people are encouraged to speak about their lives from the time they remember being a person. The idea sounds deliciously inviting. In the professor’s experience, asking open questions that don’t presume a specific answer and listening to the interviewee more than asking questions yields the most useful, and sometimes even surprising information.

microphone37But live history interviews take time and aren’t cheap, especially transcription and translation of interviews. But they are reliable when added to a pool of collective memory and with a few quality control methods applied. A common truth can be found.

It is all part of one rich historical narrative, told from different perspectives.

I grew up hearing stories from elders, something which sticks with me more than the history books I have read. But I know that using both methods is probably the best way to understand and get an accurate picture of a story, a history. It is another way to feel the lasting effect of an event from long ago.

In my studio I have been developing a way to tell stories through reading out loud. Its very exciting to have finally succeeded in producing a book that instructs the reader how to tell the story within. And it was deceptively straightforward. I am hoping it will be the backbone of major new series in 2019.

I love books, but I love stories even more.

Check to the Goethe Insitute article on Oral history

 

From idea to book: how a book is made

african, character, children's books, design, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing, stories

Everyone has a story inside them. Some of us tell it in a book or a play or on the stage, football pitch or boardroom. But most of us live our story, telling it to our loved ones, every day, year by year… the point is each story gets told and appreciated.

I have heard many wonderful stories and have learned to use the book as my medium. Let me share that way with you in a series of real-time posts, starting with an idea and ending (hopefully) with a beautiful book.

If you have thought of writing or illustrating your own book, or if you are just curious, then this real-time project will be of use before you get in touch.

All you have to do is follow the blog for regular monthly updates on the project. Please comment, spread the word and get involved!

Coming up in the first post; where ideas come from.

Remember to sign up for automatic updates

Chicken Newspaper, The Food Edition

african, children's books, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, publishing

Chicken Food Edition copy

It’s taken a while to learn how to build a digital publication, longer than I thought, but it’s finally done. It will be available throughout January on the iBookstore, Amazon and on Issuu.

If you don’t know, Chicken Newspaper is a unique way to bring current affairs into the primary school classroom because it’s written and designed especially for them.

It is available in print and now digital three times a year.

I started the project because there are many stories that are good, but not books. They are more about how life is, or about what is happening elsewhere right now. These are the kind of stories that parents might discuss with children on the way to school, or that children might overhear, or they might be news stories that need further explaining.

Chicken Newspaper has become a great way to discuss the world. Take a look at a previous issue

We’ve managed to see pit free for schools for the last four years, but the realities of publishing means that is about to change. Still, subscription isn’t expensive (from £7.95 a year, which is roughly $10.00). ITs been an exciting and fulfilling project so far!

Endangered animals: The Black Footed Ferret

character, children's books, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max

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The black-footed ferret was Once thought to be globally extinct, but it is making a comeback. It is found in North America and for the last thirty years, people have worked hard to give black-footed ferrets a second chance for survival.
There are now nearly 1,000 animals across North America and of course there is much work to be done to make sure they not only survive, but thrive.

Good luck to the bandits of the prairies!

Bringing History to Life

design, Ken Wilson-Max, stories

Are you worried children will be bored by stories of events that took pace ages ago?  A little self-conscious that you might start to sound like an old person, a know-it-all? You wouldn’t be the first parent or grown up stuck with the challenge of making history sound, well, current for children. Talking about war is an even trickier proposition. Trust in your child’s intelligence, imagination and empathy. Then do some research, because the facts are already written. Then, all you have to do is tell the story in a way that relates to here and now.

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Take for instance, the story of Momčilo Gavrić (pronounced, Momchillo Gavrich), the youngest soldier in the First World War, which started one hundred hers ago in July, 1914. He was  the eighth child of eleven. His mum and dad were Alimpije and Jelena Gavrić. With 10 brothers and sisters, imagine the house they all lived in. Life must have been quite full and loud and happy. In the middle of summer, August 1914, one hundred years ago, Austro-Hungarian soldiers attacked. His dad, mom, grandmother, his three sisters, and four of his brothers were killed. The happy house was burnt to the ground. Momčilo was at his uncle’s house at the time. His life changed forever.

Momčilo found the Serbian army nearby and told them what had happened. The soldier in charge, Major Stevan Tucović, ordered someone in the unit to look after Momčilo, as he lead the unit to where the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were.

When he was 10 years old, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal by his commander. The unit was sent to Thessaloniki, in Greece. Major Tucović sent him to Sorovits where he was sent to school for a while.

Back in Serbia, the commander of the Serbian army was shocked when he saw an eleven year-old boy in uniform. Momčilo’s commander, Major Tucović told him the story; that the boy had been with them since the Battle of Cer, and that he had both been taught discipline and had even been wounded during his time in the unit. The commander promoted Momčilo again, to Lance Sergeant. 

He was sent to England and finished his education at Henry Wreight school in Faversham, Kent. In 1921 he went back to his country after Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić ordered the return of all children to Serbia. Back in Trbušnica he found his three surviving brothers. He died in 1993 at the grand old age of 93.

What a story! There is so much to discuss…