The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories

Form and Meaning in Oral History

By Alessandro Portelli

Subjects: Public History, Oral History, History, Historiography, Cultural Anthropology
Series: SUNY series in Oral and Public History
Paperback : 9780791404300, 358 pages, January 1991
Hardcover : 9780791404294, 358 pages, January 1991

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Table of contents


1. The Death of Luigi Trastulli: Memory and the Event
I. On Methodology

2. Research as an Experiment in Equality

3. What Makes Oral History Different

4. "The Time of My Life": Functions of Time in Oral History

II. Two Industrial Cultures

Section One Terni, Umbria, Italy

5. Dividing the World: Sound and Space in Cultural Transition

6. Uchronic Dreams: Working-Class Memory and Possible Worlds

7. The Best Garbage Man in Town: Life and Times of Valtàro Peppoloni, Worker

8. Sports, Work, and Politics in an Industrial Town

9. Typology of Industrial Folk Song

Section Two Harlan, Kentucky, United States

10. Patterns of Paternalism: From Company Town to Union Shop

11. No Neutrals There: The Cultural Class Struggle in the Harlan Miners' Strike of 1931-32

III. The Interdisciplinary Approach

12. The Oral Shape of the Law: The "April 7 Case"

13. Absalom, Absalom! : Oral History and Literature

The Narrators




Portelli offers a new and challenging approach to oral history, with an interdisciplinary and multicultural perspective. Examining cultural conflict and communication between social groups and classes in industrial societies, he identifies the way individuals strive to create memories in order to make sense of their lives, and evaluates the impact of the fieldwork experience on the consciousness of the researcher. By recovering the value of the story-telling experience, Portelli's work makes delightful reading for the specialist and non-specialist alike.

Alessandro Portelli is Professor of American Literature at the University of Rome "La Sapienza. "


"The essays that Alessandro Portelli has produced on the meaning of oral history are incredibly insightful. The book is a real breakthrough in the analysis of oral history and will stimulate work in the field for years to come. " — John Bodnar, Oral History Research Center, and Department of History, Indiana University

"I can think of nothing which is so closely tied to actual fieldwork, and which brings such sophisticated theoretical understanding to that fieldwork. " — Ronald J. Grele, Director, Oral History Project, Columbia University

"This is a simply dazzling collection of essays, some dealing with the methodology of oral history, others giving its results. The insights of the author into the historian's craft and, more specifically, the dynamic between oral historians and their subjects are exceptional. Overall, the essays are beautifully crafted and very well written. The author's erudition is impressive but never overpowering. " — Donald Quataert, State University of New York, Binghamton