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Witness Seminar with Matt Cook

15:00 - 17:00
GALA Library

Witness Seminar - GALA History

Date and time: Wednesday 14 September 2016, 15:00-17:00

Venue: GALA Library.  Some snacks and beverages to be served

What is a ‘Witness Seminar’?

Contemporary historians are increasingly turning, or returning, to the traditional technique of oral history to supplement, or extend, existing records, and to create new resources. Recognising that many of the principal sources of contemporary history are still with us, we should attempt to hear, and record, their accounts. A particularly specialised form of oral history is the ‘Witness Seminar’, where several people associated with a particular set of circumstances or events are invited to meet together to recall, discuss, debate, and even disagree about their reminiscences.

To accompany the seminar theme(s), visual material is displayed and used to trigger memories and discussions.  These can include photographs, clothing, documents and ephemera.

The subsequent reflections and discussions are recorded and transcribed, contributing to the historic record of a specific time period, organisation or event.

What would GALA’s Witness Seminar be about?

The idea behind the GALA witness seminar is to record some of the organisation’s history in the lead up to GALA’s 20th anniversary next year (2017).  We would like to record the voices of those who played an active role in GALA over the last 20 years - this includes former staff members, board members, patrons, researchers and project partners. 

The seminar will be led by Matt Cook, who approached GALA with the view to doing some work with us due to his interest in community archives.  Cook is Professor of Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London.  He has published numerous articles and books on queer history.  For more on Matt Cook, see the following link:

Cook will facilitate the seminar, starting by giving an introduction to witness seminars and the themes for the afternoon.  Participants will then be given time to look at some of the objects displayed and gather their thoughts.  Once everyone is gathered again, Cook will lead the group in recollecting and discussing.  The seminar will be broken up into three sessions of 30 minutes each: 10 minutes to look through items and recollect, followed by 20 minutes of recorded discussions.  Each of the three sessions will have a different theme.

Ideally the seminar will have about fifteen contributors/participants.

Themes for the seminar

Although the themes are still to be finalised, and discussions will largely be led by the participants themselves, below are the initial ideas for the three themes:

1.  Campaigns and Projects – reflections about some of the projects and products GALA has produced in the past.  These might include various book, exhibitions and specific projects such as the Deaf Program and youth Art 4 Advocacy.                                                                                                              

Items for reflection could include: Books published by GALA, GALA exhibition material, body maps, silk screens and other workshop artworks.

2. People – reflections relating to the different people that have made up the GALA ‘family’ over the years – their contributions and challenges.                                                                                               

Items for reflection could include:  photographs, pieces of writing from specific people.

3. Past vs. present – how has GALA changed and grown over the last 20 years?  What are the struggles and tensions around capturing contemporary history – history in the making – and giving attention to the historical archive, and how has GALA dealt with this?                                                 

Items for reflection could include: Posters, GALA newsletters, t-shirts, ephemera from partner organisations (or organisations in our archive collections), GALA founding documents and early flyers and publications.

* Also note:  it is possible that some participants may not feel they can comment on all three themes. 

It is also thought that for those who can’t make it (particularly those not based in Johannesburg), we could send photographs of a few items displayed and their accompanying themes, and ask participants to send their reflections by email. 


Aims & Outcomes

  • To contribute to the organisational history of GALA
  • To give a voice to some of those who have worked mainly behind the scenes, but have played such an important role in the work of GALA
  • To better understand how community archives such as GALA work and change over time
  • To contribute to Matt Cook’s work on queer community archives
  • To document GALA’s history as part of its archival record
  • To contribute to a current publication project on GALA’s history



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