$3m grant opens oral history archive

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2001, 12:00am

A prominent historian is spearheading a project to gather recollections of Hong Kong's past in the largest local oral history programme embarked on.

Dr Elizabeth Sinn, deputy director of the Centre of Asian Studies at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has won $3 million from the Government's Research Grants Council to gain insight into Hong Kong's past through interviews with long-time residents - from grandparents to former officials.

The study will focus on vanishing trades, ethnic communities, businesses, the civil service, arts, education and the media. It will also focus on two neighbourhoods - Wan Chai and the community on Cheung Chau. The transcript of each interview will be copied in English and Cantonese and put on to the Internet to provide information for those researching Hong Kong.

Dr Sinn, author of a book on the Tung Wah Hospital and a specialist on the history of philanthropy here, hopes that the Government will take over the project after the funding runs out and that the archive will be included in the Hong Kong Museum of History.

The project would help fill gaps in local history that had not been recorded, she said. 'Hong Kong has a Public Records Office, but it only keeps historical documents. We need to have people's memories to supplement the information. The way some people remember certain things is a very unique way of interpreting public and private events.'

People's oral accounts are subjective, she says, but they provide various perspectives of changes in Hong Kong and shed light on the circumstances in which past decisions were made.

The oral history project will compliment various research work done on Hong Kong in the past. 'Not all of the tapes done by past researchers were open to the public and some may also have been lost or broken,' said Dr Sinn, who is also vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Her plan is to also dig up unused material and identify suitable interviewees through previous researchers, former officials and others.