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Telling history through the oral tradition

By Breeana Ashkar

The history department welcomed interested students and faculty to a series of presentations titled “Constructing the Past through ‘Materiality’ and ‘Orality’” on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The event was hosted by professors Xinru Liu and Roman Kovalev, who were accompanied by two student representatives in bringing modernity into history.

Kovalev gave the first presentation, “Who drank all the Byzantine wine, and how do we find out?” The lecture described the archaeological research centered on tracking where wine was exported from the Byzantine Empire during the time when there were restrictions on wine exports.

Further research from materiality and archaeology revealed that wine was exported north of the Byzantine Empire.

Thousands of shards from the wine vessels transported were evidence from the massive exports.

That example of materiality flowed into the next presentation given by Liu: “Silk Road and Buddhism,” which consisted of intricate descriptions of sculptures and carvings of the famous Buddha.

The artifacts, such as statues, symbolized Buddhist culture with ornate details in each piece of art. For example, within a piece of art there were little figurines drinking or playing music, hinting to the culture.

Junior psychology and sociology double major Stephanie Mallinas and junior history and secondary education double major Katherine Burke, both student representatives, gave the closing presentation, which was about wanting to directly relate history and people.

The students interviewed five women in Trenton and asked about their experiences with segregation and racism, which resulted in people excited to share their stories. “Oral history” was the method used by listening to the women’s first-hand experiences.

The stories were especially moving because the interviewees were directly affected by the segregation that a person would typically read about in a textbook, making listening to their stories more personal. Relating back to materiality and orality, some hardships to this type of research would be biases accurately remembering things and time, according to students.

“They could’ve talked for days about certain events,” Mallinas said.

After talking to the people of the Trenton community, the girls received an accurate depiction of what Trenton was like for the past 50 years. They walked away with a lasting learning experience and took pride in their hard work.


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