Alessandro Portelli: A lifetime of listening

By Alessandro Portelli, Steven High

This interview brings together two prominent oral historians, Alessandro Portelli and Steven High. Taking a look back at Portelli’s two masterful frescoes—They Say in Harlan County. An Oral History (2011) and Biography of an Industrial Town. Terni, Italy, 1831-2014 (2017)—the Italian and Canadian oral historians discuss the influence of literature, popular music and ethnology on Portelli’s approach to oral history; the benefits and issues arising from interviewing across political lines; the ways in which deindustrialization and cultural defeats colour how working-class interviewees understand past struggles; the rise of a radical right in Terni and Harlan County; and the impact of Covid-19 on Portelli’s current research.

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