Documenting oral histories of Partition collaboratively across a communal divide

Dr. Guneeta Singh Bhalla is founder of The 1947 Partition Archive, an organization that documents oral histories from survivors of India and Pakistan’s 1947 Partition, also known as the world’s largest mass refugee crisis. After a 2008 visit to the oral testimony archives at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial she was inspired and began interviewing Partition witnesses in 2009. It was a deeply enriching experience and she wanted to make the art of oral history accessible to everyone. She was also troubled with the realization that the generation of eye witnesses was nearly gone and taking their lore with them. This led to the concept of crowdsourcing oral histories of Partition, which included teaching and encouraging the public in recording the people’s history of the world’s largest mass human displacement. She gathered a team and began training individuals from all walks to record oral histories in 2010. In 2011 The 1947 Partition Archive was born and has through today documented over 10,000 Partition witnesses accounts. Guneeta is passionate about telling history from the ground up, and empowering everyone to tell their story. Guneeta believes that our true collective history is diverse and made up of the lived experiences of everyone who has ever existed, and is thus devoting her life to raise the curtain on unheard voices from some of the most marginalized and underrepresented communities. Previously, she was an experimental condensed matter physicist who completed her tenure as a post-doctoral researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley. She devised experiments to probe quantum confinement at interfaces that include oxide heterostructures and domain walls in multiferroics. Underneath it all, she is a visual artist who won numerous awards for her works through her school days and college, before diverting her creative skills to the hard sciences, and now, oral history.