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Decolonizing the Narrative: Preserving Oral History in a Diasporic Community

Project Thesis by Felicia Rova-Chamroeun

Decolonization and community engagement practices in recent years have become prominent areas of reflection, discussion, and shifts in practice in the museum field. As museums are pushing to decolonize their institutions on various levels, work towards decolonizing oral history is still limited. The purpose of this project was to record and make available the stories from individuals of the Cambodian community in the greater Seattle area who would like to share their history and culture and make these stories available through an accessible website. The problem this project intended to address is the lack of decolonization in recorded oral history regarding people or cultures that have endured genocide, hardship, and trauma. Key components of this project included connecting with the Cambodian community, creating broad questions for narrators and allowing them to control the direction of the interview, recording interviews in the narrator’s choice of format, and creating accessibility to the stories on the Highline Heritage Museum website. The findings of this project impact the way in which museums can connect with community to create a fuller story of cultural heritage. Building trust with community is essential for the community to share stories that would traditionally go unheard due to preconceived narratives built by society. This project can be used as a model by museums interested in implementing oral history projects that employ the practice of shared authority with community, and in the process decolonize the prevailing narrative of the community. This practice of shared authority provides space for authentic storytelling experiences that build deep relationships with communities.


Rova-Chamroeun, F. (2020). Decolonizing the Narrative: Preserving Oral History in a Diasporic Community. [Unpublished master’s thesis project]. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.


project, community engagement, oral history, diasporic community, storytelling, Cambodian community, cultural heritage, decolonize, shared authority