Oral History Program: Introduction

(Please see results of the program here)

The Oral History program in the Department of History is designed to allow a broad spectrum of students to explore individual, local, and regional histories through the personal narratives of individuals, building connections between individual lives and collective experiences, and allowing students to localize their engagement with History. The program began as the Punjabi-language Oral History project, which was founded to support for Punjabi language in British Columbia. As such, it drew upon and was inspired by activities that have taken place in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley since the late 1960s, when the numbers of Punjabis in BC began to increase significantly and members of the Punjabi community became very active in building their community’s cultural life here.  It was in honour of this long-standing tradition–and in recognition of its merit and import in the study of Punjabi culture and history overall–that the Punjabi Oral History Program at UBC first focused its attention on cultural production in the Punjabi language in this region. The Program in that phase was enabled in a trial first year (2010-2011) by a grant from UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning. In 2012-2013, a generous grant from the Canada India Education Society supported the program again, in the context of the third-year Punjabi language class. In the fall term of the 2015-6 academic year a new fourth year seminar entitled ASIA 475, now cross-listed with HIST 475, “Documenting Punjabi Canada,” was first offered, allowing students to undertake in-depth oral history interviews on a range of subjects of their choice. Later, the “Punjabi in BC” project (2019-2023), was pursued to document the history of the Punjabi language in BC through interviews with students, K-12 educators, journalists, writers and editors, and language advocates; the “Caste in Canada” project was pursued in the same period (2020-2023), to document the histories of those impacted by caste discrimination in BC.  Both projects were pursued with the paid research assistance of students. In 2023, the new course HIST 400, “The Practice of Oral History,” was initiated in the Department of History to enable a broad spectrum of students to engage with diverse histories, with a focus on local and regional history.

To see past class-based projects, explore “Oral History Projects” in the menu above, or click here.


For more on the history of Punjabi-language activism in BC, see: Sadhu Binning. “Punjabi-Canadian Literature: Reflections of the Changing Community” in The International Journal of Punjab Studies 13, 1 & 2 (Spring-Fall 2006): 279-285.