Jill is a social anthropologist exploring women’s experiences of memory, trauma and oral testimony in post-conflict environments. She considers women’s narratives are crucial to broadening our understanding of historical events. In particular, she focuses on women’s affective memories as a way of arriving at a more complex, layered and dynamic picture of transitional justice processes within a variety of historical and geographical contexts. By highlighting women’s experiences and memories of human rights abuses, mass violence and displacement, Jill strives to stimulate global conversations and strengthen critical thinking on historically silenced versions of history.
Jill is the author of Reframing the Transitional Justice Paradigm: Women’s Affective Memories in Post-Dictatorial Argentina (2014). Drawing on first-hand oral testimonies from Argentine women, the book explores the evolving and complex memorial consequences of political violence in post-dictatorial Argentina. Specifically, it looks at the power and significance of personal emotions and affects in shaping memorial culture. Jill is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Swinburne Institute of Social Research at Swinburne University, Australia and gained her PhD with the Institute in 2013.
Jill is a multi-linguist (Spanish, French and English-speaking) and has spent many years working at a grassroots level within INGOs and NGOs in many different international contexts from Myanmar, to the Republic of Congo, to Kosovo to Guatemala, dealing with a variety of issues ranging from human rights to HIV/AIDS behavioural research.
Cultural Memory is an online oral testimony and digital storytelling project exploring women’s experiences and memories of human rights abuses, mass violence and traumatic displacement.
Women are often the physical, emotional and spiritual backbone of the family in the aftermath of civil conflicts. They play a central role in shaping and influencing intergenerational identity and ultimately societal memory by passing down their memories. However their memories are regularly overlooked in official versions of their history.
For many years, working as a Protection Delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jill worked with women to record human rights abuses in the aftermath of conflict. Women were the ones who engaged in testimony because the majority of men had been imprisoned or killed in the communities in which Jill worked. As the women—often surrounded by their children—told her their painful stories, the powerful role they played in the intergenerational transmission of their memories of violence in a post-conflict environment became very clear. Despite their central role in shaping and influencing their society’s future identity, women’s memories are regularly overlooked in official versions of a society’s history.
Cultural Memory records and preserves for perpetuity an extensive online database of oral testimonies of women who have been displaced by mass violence in a variety of international contexts. It brings into the public sphere, first-hand accounts from the women who lived through historical events and advances understanding of women’s experiences and memories of human rights abuse, war and traumatic displacement.
Cultural Memory makes a significant, original contribution to the preservation of historical memory by raising new and different questions about the long-term repercussions of crimes against humanity. It creates educational, research and public awareness-raising resources that engender nuanced reflections about those fleeing persecution, which thus lead to more positive encounters and relationships within and between diverse communities.
A Different Approach to Taking Testimony
Cultural Memory applies oral testimony as a methodological tool differently from the ways in which it is traditionally used in historical and truth-seeking initiatives. That is, it brings a feminist methodological approach to the interview process by acknowledging and valuing ‘women’s ways of knowing’, by including and integrating reason, emotion, intuition, experience and analytic thought.
Cultural Memory not only explores the women’s more formalised accounts of historical events but takes the task of memory-making a step further, focusing on women’s affective memories of trauma held within their personal memories of violence and loss, political activism and resistance.
Taking an affective approach to the gathering of oral testimony is particularly relevant to raising our consciousness of how individuals carry the legacy of surviving violence and how they continue living with their traumatic loss. Most crucially, the notion of affect makes us conscious of the vulnerability of others. Judith Butler (2003) tells us that we need to critically evaluate and oppose such conditions that make some lives more vulnerable and more ‘grievable’ than others:
‘From where might a principle emerge by which we vow to protect others from the kinds of violence we have suffered, if not from an apprehension of a common human vulnerability?’ (Butler 2003: 30).
This is Cultural Memory’s second main role. It engenders a way of approaching the topic of survivors of war, genocide and human rights abuses in a way that highlights their humanity. It builds on the testimonies collected to create public awareness-raising resources as a way of promoting critical thinking around refugee and asylum issues, and stimulating global conversations on the lessons and legacies of women’s experiences of mass violence and displacement.
1. Mitigating harm
The experience of revisiting the painful experiences of human rights abuses, war or displacement may prove deeply emotional and psychologically traumatic for participants. The publication, reinterpretation and dissemination of participants’ contributions may also prove to be a difficult and upsetting experience. To address this issue, participants have access to the support of social workers, counselors and psychologists.
2. Obtaining informed consent
Informed consent is obtained in consultation with participants prior to and immediately following the interviews. Participants are informed of the purpose of the interview, the procedure and participants’ options regarding confidentiality and the accessibility of the recording and/or transcript.
3. Participants’ rights and options throughout interview process
A participant may choose to end the interview at any time and may ask that the recording of the interview be destroyed. Following the interview, participants are given the opportunity to review the terms of their participation and make any changes to the consent agreement.
While Cultural Memory is unable to control future uses of the material by unaffiliated researchers once it has been archived, it will work in good faith to ensure that archived materials are used in accordance with the best interests of the participants and within the bounds of the restrictions provided by their consent agreements.
When participants request anonymity, their recorded interviews are kept secure and are made available only to the principal investigator, and approved archivists, transcribers and translators who have agreed, in writing, to protect the identities of the participants involved.
5. Accessibility of the transcripts/recordings
Participants who provide their oral testimonies are given a copy of the transcription of their interview, as well as a DVD or CD if requested.
6. ‘Shared Authority’
Cultural Memory approaches the interviews within a framework of “shared authority” of the oral testimonies; each recorded narrative is approached as a collaboration between the researcher and researched. Cultural Memory devises strategies designed to share authority beyond the interview stage, enabling interviewees to help the project interpret interviews and to participate in research production