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

 

World Book Day

design, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

WBD-fin

World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators and reading. It is designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books marked in over 100 countries.

On  the 6th of March, children of all ages come together to appreciate books and reading.

The main aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading. But the two are no Longer as connected as the once used to be: electronic books, games and apps now form a growing part a child’s reading life. At the same time the number of titles published each year is almost unsustainable as it is staggering. 292,037 new titles and editions in the USA, 149,800 new titles in the UK for a start.

We’ve been led to believe that paper from managed forests is environmentally friendly and responsible.  Looking after the environment is slowly persuading businesses (like publishing) to rethink  their priorities, but, seriously, with the years it takes to grow a forest one has to wander if the act of chopping trees to make books has contributed to the current changes in our climate…

Perhaps we need to be thinking in terms of promoting reading more than books? I’m definitely in the keep books camp, but it would be great to see smaller numbers and higher quality. After all, the books we have are the ones we love.

http://www.worldbookday.com
http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning/world-book-day

What about other cultures?

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

I spent time in book shops over the festive season.  I realised it is still a better experience than being online.

I also noticed the lack of contemporary stories for children about other cultures. Most, if not all publishers have an anthology of folk tales from ‘the world’. Then, most publishers have the obligatory ‘multicultural’ collections, or a series about a character from somewhere else. But there aren’t many of these and they are so similar that they can be mistaken for being the same.

Children that don’t have access to cultural stories will grow up to be adults that don’t have access to cultural stories. What will they pass on to their children? Flights of fantasy for young children don’t have to all be dragons and giants and talking animals that are candy coloured, or warm and fuzzy. In this age where more respect is being given to a person’s background celebrating cultures could go a long way.

Youth culture is current and ever-changing and really quite exciting. We cannot look at it like a sub culture. It has its own language and code of behaviour which comes out of the your person’s experience as a child.

African culture is all but forgotten by publishers. Traditional culture is crammed in to the one volume I mentioned earlier and modern African culture is simply not present. 54 countries and the cradle of human life is not seen as interesting enough…

If you ever have the opportunity to sit with a book seller our buyer you will hear that these stories simply don’t sell, it’s a sales and marketing issue. I believe it is one of misunderstanding and slight fear. As the world looks to Africa and the East it is only a matter of time before that will change.

So, this year, I will be focusing on cultures of all kinds: How to make them fun, how to turn them into stories. What’s more, I’ll let you know how the year progresses.

K

What Matters… Libraries

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

What is happening to libraries in the UK is shocking. I read this quote in the Guardian recently, from Margaret Hodge, the Culture Minister;  “I do care passionately about libraries,” she says, “but they have to change. The footfall is down and book issues are massively down. Only 14 of 151 local authorities have libraries that offer e-books.” She said that in March, 2010.
In February,2011, 375 public libraries across the UK face closure, with dropping numbers in visits and tightening council budgets to blame.
To me the library is not only about books but about information housed in a central place freely available to all. It’s not about footfall either. It is a symbol of knowledge and hope.
As a child in Africa and I heard more stories than I read. Books were not in the front of my mind until I reached my late teens and libraries less so. Ironically, I now make my living by writing and illustrating books. I couldn’t say I saw that coming!
I’ve visited a fair number of libraries all over the United Kingdom and the United States, each with their own personality, each with dedicated and knowledgeable staff and most importantly strong and involved communities. Librarians have innovated and turned their libraries into community hubs where more than books are on offer.
My young daughter reads more than I ever did at her age and part of that is down to the local library. She reads to me at night, and just before I nod off I feel as though I am re-living a slightly different version of my own childhood. Putting that aside, books have made my daughter more imaginative, more chatty, more witty and more curious.
Meanwhile, ancient books and manuscripts are being digitized in far away places such Timbuktu, Mali. Up to 150,000 manuscripts, some of which date from the 13th century and document subjects ranging from science and the arts to social and business trends of the day are available to view on-screen in a high-tech facility. The same is happening in museums all over the world.
At a time when the battle between the digital and monologue worlds is raging the loss of a number of libraries seems to show that victory belongs to the digital world. There is a clear line between those who want to keep the printed word on paper and those who strongly believe the future of the printed word is on-screen.
I have come to see the printed and displayed word as completely separate products carrying the same content.
The modern library might turn out to be a place where books are part of the solution and the librarian is still the user or visitor’s guide. The key to the library’s survival, therefore is the librarian and the accessibility of the information.
Further information;

Octavo (www.octavo.com) use ‘the best in advanced technology to uncover and enhance the seminal ideas of the past in ways that will offer inspiration for the present and future.’
The Domino Project (http://www.thedominoproject.com/), the brainchild of American marketing expert Seth Godin seeks to reinvent “what it means to be a publisher, and along the way, spreading ideas that we’re proud to spread.”
Ken

See the light

design, illustration, iPhone illustrations, Ken Wilson-Max, London, North London

I noticed a man enjoying his book on the Underground the other day.

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
– Groucho Marx (1890 – 1977)