Māra Zirnīte


The National Oral History Archive at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Latvia has been developed over the past 27 years, and its collection contains more than 4600 life stories. The oldest narrators offer a variety of perspectives on an era full of upheavals and devastation. In the twentieth century Latvia experienced two revolutions, two world wars, two occupations and the proclamation, loss and renewal of independence. Drastic changes are usually a rich source of memories and remembering. They also stimulate every new generation to ask questions in order to form its own opinions about past events.

This publication offers excerpts involving dramatic episodes that are described in life stories and characterize the experiences of the older generations at times when the ordinary course of life was interrupted. In these memories, the sense of belonging to a certain generation is represented not only through the events experienced but also in the manner of narration, word choice and specific portrayal of events. German researcher Astrid Erll offers the term ‘travelling memory’, meaning that a memory ceases to exist when it no longer travels between people, groups or nations. The life story excerpts presented here contain such examples of narrators including references from the experience of previous generations as well as their own experience.

The acquisition of generational memories is important for individuals and society as a whole to be aware of their place and role in a process based on time-tested moral values. Literature, films, the public performance of memories and also the unique body of texts held in the National Oral History Archive help to carry memories between generations.