Worlds of Ordinariness

Worlds of Ordinariness: Oral Histories of Everyday Life in Communist Czechoslovakia

16.01.2013 – 17:00
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres, Nussdorfer Strasse 64, 4th floor, 1090 Wien
Lecturer: Dr. Rosie Johnston

Just how ordinary was everyday life during Normalization in Czechoslovakia? In their discussions of the lives of ‘ordinary people’, historians have underplayed the fear and secrecy present in the daily experiences of Czechs and Slovaks in the late communist period. In linking writings by dissidents to Czech and Slovak oral histories in the collections of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, I seek to problematize the dissident/ordinary person dichotomy used in recent historiography, and argue that the chasm between these two apparently opposite groups has been exaggerated. Through an analysis of the themes of family, education and mobility, I will show that domestic life was not an escape from politics, but was in itself politicized. From audiovisual interviews, I will glean Normalization-era memories of the need for what Václav Havel called ‘silence’ and ‘mystification’ – in the classroom, in the pub and in the home.

Rosie Johnston has coordinated the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library’s oral history project since it began in 2009. The project Recording Voices & Documenting Memories of Czech and Slovak Americans currently consists of more than 260 interviews with Czech and Slovak immigrants to the United States.
Johnston holds a degree in Modern Languages (Czech, Slovak and French) from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. She has worked as a reporter for Czech Radio’s international service, Radio Prague. While at Oxford, Johnston held a Pathfinder Scholarship, for which she wrote a research dissertation titled ‘Czechs and Slovaks in the United States and the Institutions Preserving their Cultural Heritage’.

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