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Palgrave Macmillan

The Unexpected in Oral History

Case Studies of Surprising Interviews

  • Textbook
  • © 2023


  • Explores the role of unexpected encounters and surprises in oral history interviews
  • Analyses intersubjectivities and the construction of personal narratives
  • Reflects on the methodology of oral history and memory studies

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Oral History (PSOH)

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About this book

How is an oral historian to react when the unexpected emerges, whether in field research or interview analysis? Answers tend to be scattered throughout the scholarly literature or confined to backstage conversations. This book brings the unexpected to the center of the scene and promotes a collective reflection about ways of dealing with uneasy encounters, surprises, and interviews that seem to have gone off the rails. The contributors come from a dozen countries, especially Brazil, where a classic piece about a “great liar” paved the way for this discussion. Rather than eccentric descriptions of unusual situations, these chapters evoke a dense web of reflections about dialogue, the production of oral sources, and the complexities of personal narratives. Theoretically informed but written in an engaging language, the book presents readers with fascinating case studies of the eruptions of the unexpected that occur in oral history research.

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Table of contents (35 chapters)

  1. Scratching the Silence: The Unexpected as an Outbreak

  2. Between Lies and Half-Truths: The Unexpected as Falsification

  3. Deviating Routes: The Unexpected as a Mnemonic Device


“This is a stunning book, an unusual and much-needed contribution to the literature on oral history. Authors from thirteen countries reflect on interviews where the conversation went in unanticipated directions. The chapters are theoretically and epistemologically sophisticated, but given the book’s focus on the human dimensions always at play in the interviewing process, the writing is as much personal as methodological. The Unexpected in Oral History takes readers in many truly surprising directions. This book is an essential companion for everyone interested in interviewing.”

—Richard Cándida Smith, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The Unexpected in Oral History is highly original in conception, form, and content. Through practitioner essays centered on the interviewer-interviewee relationship, it combines refreshingly candid first-person fieldwork reflections with thoughtful insights intothe resulting interviews and how they can be read.  The approach is grounded in a nuanced understanding of careful listening, and then dialogic engagement, as a defining core of oral history.”

—Michael H. Frisch, University at Buffalo and The Randforce Associates, LLC

Editors and Affiliations

  • Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), São Paulo, Brazil

    Ricardo Santhiago

  • Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Belo Horizonte, Brazil

    Miriam Hermeto

About the editors

Ricardo Santhiago is a professor at the Institute of Cities at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), Brazil. An oral and public historian with a focus on Brazilian culture, he is the author of articles and books on Brazilian popular music, oral history methodology, urban cultures, and memory studies. He is a National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) Productivity Fellow.

Miriam Hermeto is a professor at the School of Philosophy and Human Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil. Her research is on the teaching of history and the memory of the Brazilian military dictatorship. Also a singer, she creates and performs historical-themed concerts that combine music and documentation.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: The Unexpected in Oral History

  • Book Subtitle: Case Studies of Surprising Interviews

  • Editors: Ricardo Santhiago, Miriam Hermeto

  • Series Title: Palgrave Studies in Oral History

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-17748-4Published: 18 April 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-17749-1Published: 17 April 2023

  • Series ISSN: 2731-5673

  • Series E-ISSN: 2731-5681

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIV, 274

  • Topics: Oral History, Historiography and Method, Memory Studies

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