Space as Testimony: Collecting Oral Histories among Nigerian Seamen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While it is widely recognized that the interview is an encounter that can produce biases, distortions, and oversights, insufficient attention has been paid to the role that physical settings play in shaping interview dynamics and outcomes. We need to deepen our awareness of how space influences what is said, how it is said, and why it is said during interviews. Drawing upon fieldwork conducted in Lagos, Nigeria, among former seamen of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), this article argues that we need to understand better how the spaces in which we conduct interviews both shape the knowledge that emerges from the interview and the ways in which we interpret it. Physical space played a prominent role in shaping interviews conducted among former seamen, officers, and managers of the defunct NNSL and provided additional evidence of the past. The physical settings in which the interviews were conducted were not only reflections of the past, they also reified the same inequalities that the research had sought to uncover. Spatial awareness is thus vital to our ability both to ask the right questions and fully understand the responses in the process of collecting oral histories. A lack of attention to the role physical space plays in the interview process can ultimately undermine our most fundamental intentions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-340
Number of pages17
JournalOral History Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • African history
  • Interviewing
  • Methodology
  • Nigeria
  • Space and Place

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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