Autobiographical memories in the life histories of New Zealand migrants to Australia

Rosemary Baird


Understanding how narrators use ‘autobiographical memory’ to construct oral testimony that deals with a life history is integral to their analysis. Considering personal experiences in this way complements broader approaches to historical narratives of human experience, such as those of migration. Anthropologists and oral historians Jacob Climo and Maria Cattell argue that while memory may be incorrect with regards to factual truth, it always reveals personal truths. Memory is used to maintain consistent individuality and to give coherence to past experiences. While autobiographical memories are not always factually accurate, they contain ‘an abundance of truth in regard to personality, self expression,
personal identity, future planning, and other self oriented aspects of memory’. Oral historian Alessandro Portelli claims that the specifi c value of oral history lies in changing memories, which reveal narrators’ efforts to make sense of the past and to give form to their lives.2 This article identifies five types of strong autobiographical memories found in the life histories of interviewees. These migration memories are divided into five categories: sensory, nostalgic, emotional, work, and entertaining stories. Analysing these migration memories in this framework provides insights into why these experiences persist in narrators’ life stories.


New Zealand; Australia; migration; oral history

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